Note: I’m late getting this up, mainly due to most of Russel Cook’s emails at attachments going into the spam bin, then there was the last week when I just didn’t have any time beyond getting WUWT-TV on the air. It is still relevant, however, and worth reading – Anthony
Guest post by Russell Cook
If appeals to authority / appeals to peer-reviewed literature and complete sidesteps of questions are the best defense Frontline offers for “Climate of Doubt”, what does that say about the state of journalistic integrity in the mainstream media on the topic of global warming?
Readers of WUWT were first made aware of the PBS Frontline program “Climate of Doubt” on October 3rd, and subsequent concerns about it prompted six additional WUWT posts ( https://wattsupwiththat.com/?s=%22climate+of+doubt%22 ). While in the process of watching the broadcast on October 23rd, I jotted down around 15 or 16 concerns I had, and distilled thirteen of those the following day into an email complaint to the PBS Ombudsman. My letter appeared online November 5th, seen about halfway down the page here, accompanied by Frontline’s point-by-point rebuttal. I am no journalist, and am certainly no scientist, but I have become reasonably well versed in the politics of the issue, especially in regard to the accusation that skeptic climate scientists are said to be corrupted by fossil fuel industry money.
I was assured by Ombudsman Getler on the morning of November 8th that my response to Frontline’s rebuttal will not appear at his site. So, with Anthony Watts’ permission, I present my original points and Frontline’s responses, followed by my ‘rebuttal to Frontline’, as an exercise of how an ordinary citizen can take on the Goliath of the mainstream media, and the apparent need for more of us to do so when egregiously biased mainstream media reporting is seen on the topic of global warming.
1. COOK: The first 10 minutes of the show was basically ‘appeal to authority’ – the National Academies declare such-and-so, there’s a scientific consensus, etc. Monckton had an article where he pointed out how this is the argumentum ad populum, or headcount fallacy … regarded as unacceptable because the consensus view and whatever science the consensus opinion is founded upon may or may not be correct, and the mere fact that there is a consensus tells us nothing about the correctness of the consensus opinion or of the rationale behind that opinion. What is left out of this Frontline show is how science phenomena do not exist at the pleasure of a show of hands, and consensus is meaningless if any given science finding has been misunderstood by all. Case in point was what I wrote about just a few weeks ago, “PBS NewsHour: Against scientific consensus before they were for it.”
FL RESPONSE: Mr. [Christopher] Monckton is not a scientist, and the argument you cite is not in a peer reviewed journal but rather published in a blog. We were careful to base our reporting on the most credible and transparent sources we could find and verify. As Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences and an atmospheric scientist told us in the film, scientists have been trying to shoot down evidence of man-made climate change for years, and they have not succeeded. In the peer-reviewed literature, scientists have been ruling-out alternate explanations and climate scientists have told us the onus is on the skeptics to present them there. Scientists will tell you theories can be overturned, but it has to be done through the peer-reviewed scientific process. If the theories he mentions in that piece could be disproved in scientific journals, then that would be a different story.
Cook’s rebuttal to Frontline (hereafter, CrF): Frontline’s response is essentially a sidestep non-response which does nothing to address the fatal flaw in ‘appeals to authority’. Monckton’s explanation of the flaw, whether it appears in a peer-reviewed publication or not, is what it is. Worse, the enslavement to the idea that science phenomena exist at the pleasure of assessments seen in ONLY peer-reviewed science journals is ludicrous. Frontline’s ‘most credible and transparent sources’ may very well also be sources that have actively shut skeptic climate scientists out of their discussions, as has been demonstrated within the ClimateGate scandal where efforts were discussed to do exactly that. Contrary to what Cicerone claims, skeptic scientists have questioned the evidence of man-caused global warming via assessments citing hundreds of peer-reviewed science journal-published papers, as in the NIPCC Reports and elsewhere, and the existence of peer-reviewed papers that do not support the idea of man-caused global warming is irrefutable (“1100+ Peer-Reviewed Papers Supporting Skeptic Arguments Against ACC/AGW Alarm”). The question is whether Cicerone volunteered this information to Frontline or if he kept it to himself.
2. COOK: The show makes a big point of saying Monckton “admits having no scientific expertise” — Well, Al Gore has no scientific expertise either. If we must ignore Monckton for this reason, then by default we must ignore Gore.
FL RESPONSE: We did not cite Al Gore as an expert. We cited climate scientists, the National Academy of Sciences and IPCC reports.
CrF: I sincerely doubt Frontline misunderstood the point I was making there, thus their response has every appearance of being another sidestep. The program most certainly did show Gore’s movie presentation with an insinuation that what was said within it was ‘settled science’, the entire premise of the program hinges on it. John Hockenberry unmistakably asserts this at the point where he says “what these people call a fallacy had another name, the truth”, whereupon the screen shows Gore’s movie points. Both Gore and Monckton, as presenters of slideshows which cite climate scientists, the NAS and the IPCC, but each come to different conclusions. Thus if Monckton’s lack of science expertise renders him unworthy to listen to, it applies equally to Gore. You can’t have it both ways.
3. COOK: The show repeats the claim that 97% of scientists believe in climate change — That study has been taken apart here, here, here, and here, and in several other articles. The key missing bit of information is that the survey only involved less than 80 scientists, and the methodology of the questions is suspect.
FL RESPONSE: Mr. Cook is citing a study that we did not use in our film. We relied on peer-reviewed studies.
CrF: Frontline says “studies” (plural) in the above response, but in the response to the David L. Hagen letter appearing above mine at the November 5th PBS Ombudsman page, Frontline’s specifically notes that it relied on the study from Anderegg et al. That’s the very same paper that Hagen AND I both pointed out as having a misleading conclusion based on the opinion of 75 of 77 self-identified unnamed “climate scientists”. NOT THOUSANDS of scientists around the world, as has been largely insinuated in reporting of the “97%” figure, only 75 of 77 unnamed climate scientists. What part of the wipeout of this insinuation does Frontline not understand?
4. COOK: [Scientist and Founder of the Science and Environmental Policy Project] Fred Singer questioned CFCs [chlorofluorocarbons] role in ozone depletion — but there is still an ozone hole over the Antarctic.
FL RESPONSE: In our interview with Fred Singer, we asked about his questioning of CFCs and ozone depletion. Here is what he told us: “I accept the fact that chlorofluorocarbons damage the ozone layer.”
CrF: So? This does not in any way give Frontline viewers deeper insight into his extensive, detailed assessments of how CFCs interact with the ozone layer and his concern about how CFC regulations may be ineffective, and nothing is offered to explain why the CFC ban has apparently had little or any effect on the ozone depletion situation.
5. COOK: Fred Singer questioned the role of 2nd hand smoke — No, he railed against EPA administrator Carol Browner’s decision to declare 2nd hand smoke a class A carcinogen when her own EPA-chosen scientists said it doesn’t rise to that level. Still harmful, but not a class A carcinogen. A bureaucrat overrode scientists and hid vital information from the public, in other words.
FL RESPONSE: Here is what Singer told us in our interview: “I know nothing about the physiological effects of secondhand smoke. I am not an oncologist. I am not a toxicologist chemist.” In any case, he acknowledged that he questioned the findings on second-hand smoke.
CrF: And Frontline’s egregious failure to expand on exactly what Dr Singer said about the matter allows a long-term accusation against him go unquestioned, which I spelled out already in my point #5 in no uncertain terms about EPA administrator Carol Browner’s decision to declare 2nd hand smoke a class A carcinogen when her own EPA-chosen scientists said it doesn’t rise to that level. Frontline’s total sidestep of this point is both inexplicable and inexcusable.
6. COOK: The Oregon Petition Project contained non-scientist ‘Hollywood celebrities’ — no, it didn’t, I already covered that false story and its ties to Gelbspan / Ozone Action in my “The Curious History of ‘Global Climate Disruption‘.” Hockenberry’s dismissal of the petition in this manner is blatantly misleading, utterly failing to address the concerns of the highly knowledgeable scientists who have signed it.
FL RESPONSE: We asked Fred Singer about the celebrities and singers and he did not dispute it. Singer also told us “Look they are not specialists in climate.” John Hockenberry never said “Hollywood celebrities,” he said celebrities. In a 1998 story in the Associated Press, Arthur Robinson, who circulated the petition, said that questionable names, including that of Perry S. Mason and a Spice Girl, were added by pranksters. Critics have said there is no way to verify independently some of the names and titles on the petition.
CrF: I sincerely doubt Frontline misunderstood the point I was making there about “celebrities”, ‘Hollywood’ or otherwise. Frontline’s apparent insinuation was to cast doubt upon the Oregon petition via highly questionable 1998 reports which I contend came entirely out of an enviro-activist organization which has every appearance of being the central source of the corruption accusation against skeptic climate scientists – the very same ‘critics’ Frontline apparently refers to directly or indirectly. With very little effort, Frontline could have taken the time to independently verify some of the names and titles on the petition to confirm that they do have valid scientific-based complaints about man-caused global warming. This is actually not so difficult to do, but Frontline seemingly did not do so, which may suggest this particular topic was used in a completely biased manner.
7. COOK: ClimateGate just a few out-of-context emails — Hardly, Steve McIntyre has plunged into it with mind-blowing detail about how it shows a pattern among that bunch to hide inconvenient truths. Emails out of context? Try reading Trenberth’s infamous email. “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t.” He was talking about the very same lack of warming Dr. Singer was talking about in the program, and Trenberth is an IPCC scientist.
FL RESPONSE: We reported accurately in the film that 11 different investigations found no tampering of temperature data in “Climategate.” Even former skeptic Richard Muller found that the temperature data was right. Gavin Schmidt told us in an interview as others have pointed out that Trenberth was referring to the travesty that ocean temperatures couldn’t be measured properly with so few instruments, something he had published in scientific journals.
CrF: Frontline incompletely reported that several of the ‘investigations of ClimateGate’ were whitewashes of the situation, details of which are very easily found at the Steve McIntyre’s ClimateAudit.org site and several others. Frontline also seems to be oblivious that Richard Muller was never a skeptic of man-caused global warming (as detailed here and here and in Muller’s own admission of being a non-skeptic). Regarding Trenberth, again, what he said was at odds with Singer’s and others’ climate assessments, which can be presented in detail in a fair and balanced PBS program. “Ocean Heat Content Adjustments: Follow-up and More Missing Heat” is one of many skeptic examples of opposing assessments to Trenberth’s papers.
8. COOK: The program was trying to show Dr. Singer as a buffoon about not seeing current heating — but the IPCC & Trenberth predicted heating that they themselves admitted wasn’t happening.
FL RESPONSE: We showed how Singer’s temperature selection of “in the last ten years” is an example of what scientists call going “up the down escalator” to make it seem that temperatures are declining when they are actually increasing if you look at all of the data.
CrF: I have looked at as much of the data as I can comprehend, and Frontline’s assertion here was already contradicted in a larger manner by assertions that the current time is neither warmer than in the Medieval Warm Period nor the 1930s. Plus, nobody in the skeptic community that I am aware of actually disputes the overall very slight warming trend over the last hundred or so years, but instead dispute what causes the warming, while disputing contentions that CO2 drives warming when this is contradicted by assessments showing temperature rises are FOLLOWED by rises in CO2. Dr Singer, in case Frontline did not notice it, was specifically pointing to the “last ten years” example as one that inexplicably undermines the idea that CO2 drives temperature up – with CO2 at an unquestioned rising rate, it must be asked why the last decade+ did not RISE in temperature.
9. COOK: Katherine Hayhoe mentioned FOIAs about her global warming advocacy — but failed to mention one of the book chapters she wrote was not for a science journal but was for Newt Gingrich’s book. FOIA questions about her receiving money for private advocacy are most certainly legitimate.
FL RESPONSE: Hayhoe told us on in our interview this was pro bono and it was for an academic press. The publisher of the book is Johns Hopkins University press.
CrF: And Frontline still failed to mention the Newt Gingrich book controversy, which viewers may very well have taken to mean she is engaged in private advocacy because of the association with Gingrich. If Ms Hayhoe so easily divulged to Frontline that her work was pro bono, then why is Texas Tech apparently so reluctant to turn over information in an FOIA request that can so easily dispel perceptions of a problem in this situation? (“Texas Tech Ignores Request for Gingrich Book Records”). And why did Frontline not go further into the troubling problems the American Tradition Institute apparently turned up regarding the Texas school and related FOIA matters, as was described by Chris Horner with specific mention of a Frontline inquiry in July? (“Sunday Reflection: The collusion of the climate crowd”)
10. COOK: GOP Rep. [Bob] Inglis tossed out by tea party people? — then why doesn’t it follow that Sen. McCain wouldn’t be voted out by the same people in his Senate re-election, where he handily won over the tea-party guy JD Hayworth? On top of that, Inglis’ last House hearing also featured him declaring ocean acidification was bad by using a demo where he dropped an egg into vinegar . . . but the oceans are collectively at the same alkaline level as baking soda.
FL RESPONSE: McCain also toned down his climate change position during the primary. We reported on Inglis and stand by that reporting as accurate.
CrF: “Toned down”, but did not abandon any of his core beliefs as any result of pressure from his primary candidate. Frontline may stand by its reporting if it wishes, but it is still contradicted by the McCain primary evidence and it is undermined by Inglis’ laughable ‘science demo’, which Frontline chooses to ignore for some unknown reason.
11. COOK: The program proclaimed the sea level rise won’t be stopped by some Carolina committee’s ignorance of it — but sea level rise will also not rise at the request of the IPCC’s prediction models, and according to a U. of Colorado study, “over the next 88 years, sea level would be expected to rise five inches in North Carolina” in direct contradiction to the Carolina committee’s report.”
FL RESPONSE: We contacted the Univ. of Colorado, which denied this claim made on a blog. Steven Neerem, professor at the Colorado Center for Astrodynamics Research, told us: “I have never made a statement or provided a quote about sea level rise in North Carolina.” And also “What Mr. Goddard appears to have done is to linearly extrapolate the last 20 years of satellite data from our website, which would indeed result in only 5″ of sea level rise by 2100. However, no reputable scientist would linearly extrapolate 20 years of sea level data (a very short data record) to predict sea level rise 88 years later. Even longer tide gauge records would not give the complete picture, because they do not consider many factors including the acceleration of sea level rise that is expected from rising greenhouse gases. Regional predictions of future sea level rise must factor in the increasing heat content of the oceans and the locations of these changes, the melting of ice around the world and regional variations in sea level rise that result, as well as changes in ocean circulation due to all these factors including the addition of freshwater to the ocean. In addition, our satellite measurements do not include the contribution to relative sea level rise in North Carolina due to land subsidence.”
CrF: Mr Goddard already has rebutted Frontline’s assertion here (“Shock News : PBS And CU Admit That There Is No Evidence Of Dangerous Sea Level Rise”), over a topic where I have no science expertise to judge. This goes to the core of the problem. This certainly looks like valid debate on matters of global warming science, but two previous programs at Frontline (“Heat” in 2008, “Hot Politics” in 2007) and essentially 16+ years’ worth of PBS NewsHour global warming discussion segments see fit to ignore detailed assessments and viewpoints from skeptic scientists and expert speakers, for unexplained reasons. It seems the best Frontline can offer here as an excuse are appeals to authority and insinuations of industry corruption. This tactic arguably never bolsters the main point about the science being settled, it instead gives the opposite impression, that the science conclusions that supposedly support the idea of man-caused global warming are so sketchy that efforts need to be undertaken to ensure the public never learns about that fault from skeptic scientists.
12. COOK: Willie Soon the skeptic got a million dollars from Exxon — no, he actually didn’t, the Harvard department he works for got it over a span of time spread out among numerous people. Across the board, what paltry donations the skeptics get ends up looking exactly like starvation wages. Worse, the mere existence of fossil fuel industry funding means either one of two things: they liked what they heard, or they were paying scientists to lie. Disprove the first before assuming the 2nd is true.
FL RESPONSE: We confirmed that Exxon did give to Soon’s department. In an interview in Reuters, Soon acknowledged that he had received funding, but denied any group would have influenced his studies. “I have never been motivated by financial reward in any of my scientific research,” he said.
CrF: The Frontline transcript has John Hockenberry clearly stating “Willie Soon has received money from ExxonMobil” – not his department (notice how Frontline specifically notes this in its first sentence), a distinction which makes all the difference in the world when it comes to perceptions of individual scientists being “corrupted” by large amounts of industry money. Frontline mentions here that Dr Soon denies any group has influenced his studies, but NOT in the broadcast. We are all left to wonder why this important detail was not heard in the program itself, along with any further clarification by Dr Soon about the matter. Certainly, if Frontline knew of its above-linked Reuters interview at the time “Climate of Doubt” was recorded, it would have been very easy to insert the one sentence from the article where Dr Soon very clearly said, “I would have accepted money from Greenpeace if they had offered it to do my research.”
13. COOK: Without naming him directly, we heard anti-skeptic book author Ross Gelbspan’s long-term assertion that skeptic efforts are no different that tobacco industry tactics which entailed shill experts hired to draw out the issue by creating confusion there has been an abject failure over the last 20 years to prove such a parallel exists, a point I detail throughout my 50+ online articles and blogs.
FL RESPONSE: Our source was not Ross Gelbspan, but Steve Coll, author of a well- documented book on Exxon. He said in our interview: “some of them actually came out of campaigning on behalf of the tobacco industry.” Our independent reporting confirmed that some of the same people and organizations who worked on raising doubt about climate science also worked on behalf of tobacco companies.
CrF: Did Steve Coll tell Frontline that he independently investigated this matter, or that he was fed this material, or did Frontline bother to ask him anything about his source for the ‘tobacco parallel’ accusation? For clarification, the parallel I speak of is very simply the idea that skeptic climate scientists were paid to ‘manufacture doubt’ about the otherwise ‘settled science’ of man-caused global warming by the fossil fuel industry, in no less of a similar manner than ‘expert shills’ were paid by tobacco companies to manufacture doubt about the harm of cigarette smoking. Al Gore’s movie made this very same parallel connection in his “An Inconvenient Truth” movie just before the 1 hour 13 minute point where a leaked tobacco industry memo was directly compared to a leaked coal industry memo, and his 2010 “Our Choice” book contains the same parallel comparison on pgs 356-57. IPCC scientist Stephen Schneider suggested this parallel in a 1992 Discover magazine article, and as I’ve detailed in my many online articles, this accusation faltered in various media until late 1995 when Ross Gelbspan and his associates at the Ozone Action enviro-activist group apparently consolidated it into the widely repeated accusation that is repeated today. Steve Coll’s book “Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power” apparently has two sources for his repetition of the parallel accusation: the Union of Concerned Scientists, and Greenpeace’s Kert Davies. The UCS itself relies on Greenpeace as its source, and it should be noted that Ozone Action was merged into Greenpeace USA in 2000, at which time Ozone Action’s founder took over as Executive Director of Greenpeace USA. Kert Davies also worked at Ozone Action at the time when that organization declared, “According to documents obtained by Ozone Action and by Ross Gelbspan, several ICE strategies were laid out including: the repositioning of global warming as theory, not fact…” – the latter phrase being the same one used in Gore’s movie and in his “Our Choice” book, and by numerous other book authors and magazine writers who cite it as smoking gun proof of the tobacco industry parallel. So, did Frontline independently confirm this, or did it rely on other sources – Gore, Naomi Oreskes, George Monbiot, James Hoggan, for example? If such people are Frontline’s sources, then it did NOT corroborate the accusation, it is one-and-the-same source.
What this all boils down to is a simple bit of fact-finding. Without any proof of industry money exchanged for false fabricated climate papers or assessments, the tobacco parallel accusation disappears in a poof of smoke, and when all the details of enviro-activists who pushed this accusation are considered, the situation ends up looking like there was an active collective effort to manufacture doubt about the credibility of skeptic climate scientists, as a cover for the unsettled science of global warming. When Frontline seemingly is unable or unwilling to find such obvious red flags in the activities of those enviro-activists, the program ends up looking like a complicit participant in this effort, or at least a negligent shill that was suckered into it. Why is it that an ordinary citizen like myself has to point this problem out to them?
All we did was ask of the mainstream media to correct their bias problem….but as a result of that, when they wouldn’t correct themselves, citizens said, “if you are not going to correct yourself, we’re going to create a media in the wake of your incompetency.” — Andrew Breitbart, from an April 2011 interview