Why I wrote Deniers

Lawrence Solomon
National Post
April 5, 2008

Global warming has become a question for citizens, and not only scientists. Citizens must decide how serious the threat is and what to do about it, which cures make sense, and which might be worse than the disease. Alas, the answers to these questions depend on scientific issues of fierce complexity that few laymen are capable of confronting directly. So what are we to do?

Al Gore has an answer, and in some ways it is a very sound answer. Mr. Gore says, essentially, that we must rely on “the argument from authority.” We must accept the word of experts who know directly what we can “know” only because they tell us. Go to the scientists and ask them. They have the right training and access to the best data. They understand the equations.

And what the scientists say, according to Gore and the United Nations and an overwhelming consensus of the media, is that “the science is settled.” There is no longer any serious doubt that global warming is a grave problem already, that it is rapidly getting worse, that it is caused primarily by human activity, and that it will lead to catastrophe if those activities continue unchecked.

Then what of the “deniers” we have all heard about, those holdouts in the global-warming debate, complete with PhDs at the end of their names, who refuse to accept the obvious? Gore and company have a ready answer, repeated again and again: Pay no attention. These alleged scientist dissenters are either kooks or crooks who take the pay of the oil companies to spew out junk science and confuse the issue. Here’s what Mr. Gore says about them: “Fifteen per cent of the people believe the moon landing was staged on some movie lot and a somewhat smaller number still believe the Earth is flat. They all get together on a Saturday night and party with the global-warming deniers.” Newsweek, in a now famous cover story, called these scientists part of “the denial machine,” funded by the energy industry and organized by corrupt right-wing lobbyists.

The very term “deniers” is a deliberate reference to the “Holocaust deniers” who defend the Nazi regime by claiming that Jews and their allies faked the Holocast to slander Hitler. Scott Pelley, of CBS’s 60 Minutes, was asked by CBS Web reporter Brian Montopoli why he “did not pause to acknowledge global-warming skeptics” in his influential broadcasts on the topic. Pelley replied, “If I do an interview with Elie Wiesel, am I required as a journalist to find a Holocaust denier?”

When I first heard about the deniers, I did not doubt that either lobby groups or scientists could be bought. I work for an environmental group called Energy Probe, one of Canada’s largest and oldest, and have seen this first-hand. We have been an anti-nuclear organization since 1974, when we began opposing Canada’s nuclear establishment, and know that industry scientists can twist the truth to suit their paymaster.

At the same time, I also know firsthand that scientists with integrity can hold unconventional and unpopular views, because this was the case in the 1970s and 1980s with a set of scientists who were deniers at the time — the small group of scientists who dissented from the conventional wisdom of the day that nuclear power was safe, clean, and inexhaustible.

They were scientists of integrity who stuck to their principles despite the scorn heaped on them at the time — unlike today, nuclear power in the 1970s had almost universal acceptance and almost no one in business, government, or academia would risk ridicule by questioning it.

This book really began, however, with a bet over a dinner in Toronto’s Chinatown almost two years ago. Energy Probe and its sister organization, Probe International, had invited some fellow environmentalists from China to come to Toronto for an extended visit with us.

A dozen of us, including my colleague at Energy Probe, Norm Rubin, were gathered to celebrate their arrival. The conversation turned to global warming when Norm remarked on the science being settled. In part because I knew Chinese environmentalists aren’t exposed to environmental debate, in part because I thought it likely that some credible scientists disagreed, and in part because Norm and I give each other no quarter, I challenged Norm to name three climate-change areas that he felt were settled.

Probably expressing more confidence than I had at the time, I told him if he identified the areas of expertise, I would find a credible dissenting scientist in each.

Well, the conversation took off on its own as good conversations do, and Norm never did propose the three areas, despite my prodding him. Nevertheless, I thought it would be fun to see if I could find the scientists whose existence I had so boldly predicted.

Besides, I also write a weekly column for the National Post. Like any journalist with column inches to fill, if I took the trouble to find these scientists, I certainly was going to get a column or two out of them. This would have the added benefit of forcing a response from Norm, because the way things work at Energy Probe, anything controversial that we write gets vetted first by the colleagues most inclined to disagree. Norm, among others, would edit and approve my first few columns.

So on Nov. 28, 2006, I wrote my first “Deniers” column for the National Post. To date, I have profiled some three dozen scientists, all recognized leaders in their fields, many of them actually involved in the official body that oversees most of the world’s climate-change research, the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Some have even been involved as lead authors. The “Deniers” columns (I still occasionally write them) got by far a greater response from readers than anything I have ever done. Many of those readers were scientists themselves. Their e-mails and phone calls thanking and encouraging me made me feel — well, thanked and encouraged, so I kept plugging away.

In the book, as in the columns, I follow a few rules. The most important is that I do not attempt to settle the science myself. Herein you will find scientists who disagree profoundly not only with some of their colleagues who support the doomsayer view but with other scientists profiled in this book. Such disagreement is the very stuff of science. More important, I am a layman trying to understand, and help other laymen to understand, how we should think about the global warming debate. For us, the answer cannot be to settle the science directly. For the most part, the layman must rely on the argument from authority, including a careful sifting of the credibility of the authorities and the relevance of their expertise to their particular claims for which they are advanced as witnesses.

The question of credibility brings me to another rule I imposed on myself: I would not play the numbers game. I would not rely on claims that 14,000 scientists signed one petition saying the planet is toast, or that 14,001 signed another saying global warming is a hoax. There are a lot of scientists in the world. By definition most of them are mediocre. Getting thousands of mediocrities to sign a petition is an impressive work of political organizing; it is not science. No, I was looking for a relative handful of scientists of great eminence, whose credibility (unlike their equations) would be transparent to the lay reader.

I have been asked many times why I titled my series and now this book The Deniers, in effect adopting their enemies’ terminology. Many of the scientists in this book hate the term and deny it applies to them.

I could give several reasons, but here is the most important. The scientists are not alone in having their credibility on trial in the global warming debate. They are not the only “authorities” in the argument, and not even the most important “authorities.” Most laymen, most citizens, owe most of what we think we know about global warming not to science directly, but to science as mediated by the media and by political bodies, especially the UN and our governments. We citizens, trying to discern what to do about global warming, must judge not only the credibility of the scientists but of those who claim to tell us what the scientists say.

To that end, as you read through this book, judge for yourself the credibility of those who dismiss these scientists as cranks or crooks, and call them The Deniers. – Excerpted from The Deniers by Lawrence Solomon (Richard Vigilante Books). The Deniers is available at Amazon Web sites, Barnes and Noble, and fine bookstores near you.

SOME LEADING DENIERS

Dr. Edward Wegman — former chairman of the Committee on Applied and Theoretical Statistics of the National Academy of Sciences — demolishes the famous “hockey stick” graph that launched the global warming panic.

Dr. David Bromwich — president of the International Commission on Polar Meteorology — says “it’s hard to see a global-warming signal from the mainland of Antarctica right now.”

Prof. Paul Reiter — Chief of Insects and Infectious Diseases at the famed Pasteur Institute — says “no major scientist with any long record in this field” accepts Al Gore’s claim that global warming spreads mosquito-borne diseases.

Prof. Hendrik Tennekes — director of research, Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute — states “there exists no sound theoretical framework for climate predictability studies” used for global warming forecasts.

Dr. Christopher Landsea — past chairman of the American Meteorological Society’s Committee on Tropical Meteorology and Tropical Cyclones — says “there are no known scientific studies that show a conclusive physical link between global warming and observed hurricane frequency and intensity.”

Dr. Antonino Zichichi — one of the world’s foremost physicists, former president of the European Physical Society, who discovered nuclear antimatter — calls global warming models “incoherent and invalid.”

Dr. Zbigniew Jaworowski — world-renowned expert on the ancient ice cores used in climate research — says the U.N. “based its global-warming hypothesis on arbitrary assumptions and these assumptions, it is now clear, are false.”

Prof. Freeman Dyson — one of the world’s most eminent physicists says the models used to justify global-warming alarmism are “full of fudge factors” and “do not begin to describe the real world.”

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