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Global Warming Fact and Fiction

Polar BearRecently the Wall Street Journal ran an article titled, "No Need to Panic About Global Warming."  The article, signed by sixteen "scientists" reports that the science on climate change is weak at best and perhaps a blatant attempt by left-wing radicals to generate hysteria.  It is an interesting read!  Science is designed to evoke skepticism and discussion and as such I see nothing essentially wrong with the article as an 0p-ed (scientific accuracy aside).  My expertise and PhD focuses on the social dynamics of environmental issues rather than atmospheric models.  As such, I was immediately drawn to the names attached to the article.  Who holds this opinion I wondered?  Why these particular 16 scientists?  What are the economic and or political ramifications of publishing this today?  (Yes, this is how my mind actually works.  I'm inherently boring!)

A couple of the names I recognized right away as well known academic researchers who have weighed in recently as climate change skeptics, but many of the others I had to look up.  What I found wasn't terribly surprising, but certainly a bit perplexing.  Just look up the names and you'll see what I mean.  Why is it that a landmark article dismissing climate change in the Wall Street Journal has been offered up (not by a group of atmospheric scientists) but by physicians, astronauts, Exxon Mobile researchers, and Department of Energy executives?  Admittedly, I am actually far more open to having a "debate" about climate change than most environmental scientists I know, but the signatures on this op-ed leave me more than a little bit interested as to how these individuals came to have their names attached to this article.  I mean, outside the opening to a bad joke, how did these folks come together to decide to write an op-ed on climate change?

The "debate" I admitted to being willing to entertain, was in fact a possibility.  Peter Gleick reported in Forbes that another op-ed was earlier submitted to the Wall Street Journal by 255 members of the National Academy of Sciences.  The article was rejected by the Wall Street Journal, but appeared in Science.  Had there been an interest in objective reporting, both articles could have appeared side-by-side; an option you now have if you follow the links I have provided.  It is important, I believe, that my interest in climate science as a debate is not shared by all.  For many, if not most climate specialists I know, this debate should be long over.  I am not sure whether it is my relative ignorance pertaining to climate change or my genuine interest in how individuals come to develop environmental beliefs, but I seem to be more tolerant of this ongoing conversation than many of my colleagues.

I'm reminded of my ignorance far too often (mostly by my own kids), but in this case it actually proves my point.  As I've already mentioned, I hold a PhD in environmental science and have even worked alongside several members of the IPCC who collectively earned the Nobel Prize for their work on climate change a few years ago, but I know very little about the mechanics of climate models.  Like it or not, academic researchers are specialists.  I specialize in food and agricultural issues and environmental sociological issues.  This leads me to my last critique of the Wall Street Journal article.  The article cites not SCIENCE but SCIENTISTS as the source of information from which the argument is drawn.  My name could have just as easily appeared at the end of that article with my credentials and appointments trailing behind (and most who read the article would probably never have looked me up to find out that I have taken no more courses in climate science than my students.)  If you intend to back a claim with credential, use the citation to the scientific publication, not the elusive name of a Dr. somebody with a long title.  I have one of those too.  I see nothing wrong with refuting the work of climate scientists from around the world who have spent years studying the role of increased levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses.  I really don't.  But when you do so, and especially when you know that hundreds of thousands are reading, you'd do well to support yourself by more than just a few "expert" witnesses.

Vincent M. Smith
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Vincent_Smith Vincent Smith, chief author of The Organic Times Blog earned a bachelors degree in biology from his home state of Missouri, his Masters in Environmental Science from Oregon State University, and his Ph.D. in Environmental Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He now teaches at Southern Oregon University and conducts research on coupled human-natural systems. Vincent is responsible for many of the business aspects of Silent Springs as well as responsible for the research and resources offered on the site. When not teaching or running a business, Vincent enjoys spending time with family, gardening, and just being outdoors.
  • http://www.thevagabondstudio.com Shai Smith

    I love how you phrased that it was quoting scientists, not science. Global Warming is such a widely debated topic, it's hard to figure out which way is up sometimes

  • http://www.happy-mothering.com Chrystal @ Happy Mothering

    Very interesting, I hadn't looked into who authored that article. Thanks for sharing - it's definitely food for thought!

  • http://www.growingslower.com Shannon @ GrowingSlower

    The problem with the article is that most people will glance at the headline, or at best read the whole thing, and take it for face value. "Well, don't have to worry about global warming or the environment anymore, check that off my list."

  • Melissa

    Great point! I think a lot of people get manipulated by credentials. I have a PhD, but I am no expert in climate change, just as someone else with a PhD is no expert on narrative theories. Despite the biographical info given, I think all readers have to go in with their own critical thinking skills.

    The problem, of course, is that most people (myself included) don't have the time or energy to do that kind of research. For instnace, I hear from one doctor or researcher that xyz is a good thing. I hear from another that it is a bad thing (I am actually thinking in this instance about flu shots, but this applies to most anything). Where does one go to find the right answer?

    I have no ideas on a solution to this... just my random thoughts.

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