Witch Hunts, Inquisitions and the Denialist Attack on Climate Science

Here’s a post by the American Tradition Institute (ATI) up at WTFIUWT about James Hansen “raking it in“.

I guess that if you can’t destroy a scientist’s work, you can always try to destroy the scientist’s reputation and thus attempt via an ad hominem attack to cast a shadow of doubt in the public’s mind over the facts. Ad hominems are a favourite fallacy of the general public, so they are primed for this message, no matter how fallacious it is. The public’s appetite for witch hunts is notorious.

Malleus Maleficarum - Hammer of Witches

The ATI is defending their inquisition as tit-for-tat — if the Democrats can ask for inquiries into Clarence Thomas’s income (that conservative darling) or inquire into outside income by members of Congress, James Hansen should be fair game.

Of course, that’s just meant to anger ATI’s constituency of rightwingnuts and deniers.

.

Here’s an excerpt from the post:

ATI obtained Dr. Hansen’s Form SF 278, which is required to be filed annually, also under the Freedom of Information Act. The disclosure revealed that Dr. Hansen received between $236,000 and $1,232,500 in outside income in 2010 relating to his taxpayer-funded employment, which included:

• Between $26,008 and $72,500 in honoraria for speeches;
• Between $150,001 and $1.1 million in prizes;
• Just under $60,000 in the form of in-kind income for travel to his many outside-income generating activities

The travel reporting marked the first time Hansen detailed such “in-kind” benefits, which included apparent first-class travel for him and his wife on trips to Australia, Japan, and Norway. The new detail raises the question of whether Dr. Hansen wrongly submitted forms in previous years, which he left blank and attested “none” in the space where he is required to report travel expenses taken as part of his outside employment, all in years in which he was busy with numerous paid outside activities of the same sort as he was in 2010.

“Now that Dr. Hansen’s outside income has come under scrutiny, we see a newfound attention to detail on forms where he reports about these sources,” said Christopher Horner, ATI’s director of litigation. “It also shows that Dr. Hansen continues to enjoy a healthy level of earnings that supplement – and for his curious exploitation of – the taxpayer-funded position he holds.”

There’s no secret that conservatives and Republicans hate public servants. They hate government on principle (although they are quite happy to feed at the public trough). Hansen enjoys a very high public profile and has a compelling and very trust-inspiring personna. He is a prime target for the smear campaign, the witch hunt, the inquisition simply because his science is not in question anywhere except in the minds of the so-called “skeptics” and deniers.

So, recently, we’ve seen the anti-science denialist machine attack climate scientists like Charles Monnett in an attempt to smear him personally so as to diminish his science so as to ensure drilling and development in the Arctic can progress unhindered. We saw the attack on the CRU and Phil Jones. We’ve seen the deniers attack Trenberth. Michael Mann has been subject to repeated FOIA requests, inquiries and investigations.

None of them have come up with anything of substance but to the denialist machine, that doesn’t really matter.

If you throw enough dirt at someone or some group, sooner or later, some of it will stick.

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46 Responses to “Witch Hunts, Inquisitions and the Denialist Attack on Climate Science”

  1. The largest piece of income appears to be Hansen’s receipt of the Blue Planet prize which is described as

    “In 1992, the year of the Earth Summit, the Asahi Glass Foundation established the Blue Planet Prize, an award presented to individuals or organizations worldwide in recognition of outstanding achievements in scientific research and its application that have helped provide solutions to global environmental problems. The Prize is offered in the hopes of encouraging efforts to bring about the healing of the Earth’s fragile environment.
    The award’s name was inspired by the remark “the Earth was blue,” uttered by the first human in space, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, upon viewing our planet. The Blue Planet Prize was so named in the hopes that our blue planet will be a shared asset capable of sustaining human life far into the future.”

    It was also publicly announced at the time

    “James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City and a vociferous advocate for lowering global greenhouse gas emissions, was chosen for his work modeling Earth’s climate, predicting global warming, and warning the world about the consequences.”

    It’s difficult to see how this FOI request added anything to notable to what was already known. Obviously it has to be spun the opposite way and everything that was known becomes new again.

    • As the planet warms, the attacks on climate scientists will heat up as well in a last-ditch effort to delay action on GHGs and thus continue to reap tainted profits for as long as possible.

      Plain and simple.

  2. It probably should be noted that ATI is also the front group that is suing for Mann’s U of Virginia emails. And in fact, they supposedly have many, but have yet to release any information on them. I have to assume nothing of interest was found. It is also interesting that instead of releasing the emails, they are complaining about what might be in other emails they can’t get their hands on.

    Unfortunately, this is just one more reason why more scientists don’t speak up more about the obvious risk from a rapidly changing climate. I used to blame them for that. Now, I don’t know how to view them.

    • A successful strategy, in other words.

      Start searching around in personal emails and bank accounts, tax returns, etc. and you can shut people up.

    • As I understand it, they received ALL the e-mails, but are in discussions with the judge on what can be released, and what should remain confidential.

      For the time being, they can’t release anything, because it has not been determined what information is allowed to be released.

  3. Here’s to hoping part of that money is in a legal fund now. He needs it (in the Bush era he had to resort to pro bono legal aid IIRC)

    About first-class travelling, been there done that (one foreign trip a week for years on end, that is, not first class). Someone with Hansen’s position and responsibilities should travel comfortably — and first class doesn’t burn a lot more fuel than monkey class anyway. Just money. And if this is the only way for his wife to now and then see him, so be it 😉

  4. “I guess that if you can’t destroy a scientist’s work, you can always try to destroy the scientist’s reputation and thus attempt via an ad hominem attack to cast a shadow of doubt in the public’s mind over the facts.”

    I agree about ad hominems, but I also think people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Just 20 seconds searching brought us this little gem from a recent post of yours:

    “Lindzen is another scientist with credentials who has received money as an advocate for the oil and gas industry.” A classic meme used against those not part of the “consensus”.

    I’m sure there’s more. Pot meet Kettle, etc. Not to mention terms such as alarmists, deniers, wingnuts etc. are all ad hominem.

  5. “Lindzen is another scientist with credentials who has received money as an advocate for the oil and gas industry.” A classic meme used against those not part of the “consensus”.

    Sigh. The truth is not a “meme”. Or perhaps it is… in that case, let’s hope it spreads. Lindzen could use some.

    • “Sigh. The truth is not a “meme”.

      Memes become “a truth,” whether based on fact or not. And the usage here is an ad hominem which is separate from whether the accusation is true or not. Even if Lindzen was making a million a year from big oil and gas, that itself isn’t an argument against the science that he does or the conclusions of his work.

      Susan’s point at the beginning of this post is that Jim Hansen is being subjected to an ad hominem attack as a way to throw doubt on his research. Yet she herself does this. Don’t like the conclusions of Lindzen or Spencer or whomever? Throw in a few ad hominems to cast doubt on their work or the conclusions of their work. Sure, it’s simple shorthand, but it’s intellectually lazy and more often than not, inaccurate.

      Now if folks want to say that critics of CACC are in the pay of big oil and question their motivation, then it’s fair game to say that Hansen has similar financial motivation, except we actually see where and how much Hansen is actually making.

      Now I personally don’t see Hansen skewing his science for financial gain. Nor do I see a Spencer or Lindzen doing so either. I do think there should be a little intellectual honesty when the pot is calling the kettle black. Or better yet, don’t use them at all.

      • Even if Susan was making a million ad hominems a year, that itself isn’t an argument for the use of ad hominems to target Hansen.

        Pots usually are in the same kitchen than the kettle they’re calling. And unless they’re faster-than-light neutrinos, they have to be called first.

  6. @UAN

    An attack directed at a person’s character, interests or motivation is not always an ad-hominem. The wikipedia entry covers it pretty well

    “An ad hominem (Latin: “to the man”, “to the person”), short for argumentum ad hominem, is an attempt to negate the truth of a claim by pointing out a negative characteristic or belief of the person supporting it.[1] The ad hominem is normally described as a logical fallacy,[2][3][4] but it is not always fallacious; in some instances, questions of personal conduct, character, motives, etc., are legitimate and relevant to the issue

    In terms of the pure science there’s no need to address the individual at all, only their work. If you have examples of any published papers that seek to refute Lindzen’s scientific work with appeals to his funding then you have a good example of an ad-hominem.

    There’s no need for any of us here to either refute Lindzen’s work nor to avoid refuting his work with diversionary attack, it’s already been refuted within the literature and his viewpoint is very much a tiny minority among experts.

    In terms of the climate change debate then motivation etc are all very relevant. Why does Hansen do what he does and how does it affect his judgement? Why does Spencer do what he does and how does it affect his judgement? An analysis of this can help to understand what they’re trying to contribute to the debate versus what they actually deliver.

    So what makes issue of Hansen’s earnings different to the issue of Lindzen’s findings? Two important points:

    1. As above Lindzen’s work is already refuted and not scientifically notable. There’s is little else to discuss regarding his prominence in the debate except for why that is. Hansen’s work has not been refuted and scientifically he’s considered to be at the top of his field and has performed ground breaking research.

    2. Hansen’s potential motivation is being misrepresented while Lindzen’s is not. Lindzen’s links to oil companies are documented and factual. Hansen’s expenses contain nothing very unusual for a scientist in his position – speaking fees and a public prize for his work. I think you’d find it very difficult to argue Hansen is really in it for the money.

    • Actually I don’t think Lindzen is in it for the money either. His motivations are more complex and personal, but that’s for another time.
      What is despicable is that he is lying and knowing it, and that his sponsors know it too. Saying that he takes money from folks that sponsor, and provide megaphones to, a large number of other more obvious liars in more or less the same way, is a legitimate reflection on his claim to credibility in the public’s, not just his peers’, eyes.

      • …and, why the focus on external money? As any true-grit libertarian will tell you, already the salary that Hansen receives as a civil servant hopelessly compromises him as a statist propagandist…

        /me ducks and runs…

      • Actually I cannot imagine Lindzen on the end of megaphone Pussycat but I think I’ve seen pictures of Hansen with one.

        • Lindzen’s megaphone is the Heartland Institute and the Cooler Heads Coalition, the Global Warming Policy Foundation which are key greenwashing astroturf orgs whose dreck is recycled far and wide to deny AGW. His funders included Western Fuels and OPEC. When it comes to speaking about global warming, those are good indications of conflict of interests that have to be taken into account when considering his views on the science of AGW. Besides denying the link between tobacco and cancer, he also denies the science of AGW. He thinks that EXXON is the only “principled” oil company — imagine that!

          Say no more.

        • > I think I’ve seen pictures of Hansen with one

          Yep… Hansen makes even a big megaphone look small

  7. Well then Pussycat you are going to have to ask yourself which is the lying scientist. ( Hint, one has a megaphone)
    also
    “Actually I don’t think Lindzen is in it for the money either. His motivations are more complex and personal, but that’s for another time.”
    Why another time Pussycat, why not right here right now. What do you think Lindzen’s motivations are ?

    • Hint, no, the one that is actually, verifiably lying.

      My guess would be (but I cannot look inside Lindzen’s head) that he committed himself at one point to the Iris theory, and when that turned out not to work he couldn’t find a way to gracefully back out. But there must be more to it… he has also been heard as a tobacco apologist. Any explanation for Lindzen’s behaviour that works should take into account that he knows he is lying*). He just doesn’t care about the science or the truth any more, as is obvious from his behaviour in public events. His commitment to the truth is more like that of your average politician, which suggests that perhaps identity politics is making him do it. Scientists are funny in this way that they care about the truth… Lindzen stopped caring.

      *) E.g., by expressing support for crackpot denialist ideas (like, ‘Pluto is warming too…’) that someone with his professional background knows are crackpot ideas. Heck, I shouldn’t even have to argue this.

  8. There are also the deniers who claim that environment groups spend huge amounts of money attacking the poor, helpless little oil megacorps. One Canadian variation on this is the claim that American groups are funding Canadian environment groups, which is a direct attempt to capitalize on Canadian wariness of American intentions:

    http://www.pogge.ca/archives/003412.shtml

    Meanwhile, Canadian scientists continue to be muzzled by the government of Harper:

    http://www.vancouversun.com/technology/Huge+hole+opens+Arctic+ozone+layer/5491487/story.html

    http://letfreedomrain.blogspot.com/2011/10/environment-canada-scientist-instructed.html

  9. …”support for crackpot denialiist ideas”…
    Call me a crackpot denialist Pussycat, but if a scientist with a megaphone was shouting to me some science that a trace invisible gas wafting around in the air above the ocean waves,somehow, by means of some “backradiation”,warmed the water beneath more than it should be……then maybe that scientist should be locked up in a nuthouse.
    Thankyou for your opinions about Lindzen.

    • Lock up those crackpot scientists that say disease is caused by some wacky invisible organisms too! Those tiny little invisible things, even if they existed, couldn’t possibly make an enormous human sick!

    • > Thankyou for your opinions about Lindzen.

      I must commend Mack for saying a true thing… these are indeed opinions/beliefs. Except for the Iris theory thing which has some evidence to back it up, and which to me suggests that for Lindzen it isn’t about money.

      The thing is, the motives of honest men are transparent and easy to know, but the likes of Lindzen reduce us to guesswork… tangled web and all that.

    • > that a trace invisible gas wafting around in the air above the ocean
      > waves,somehow, by means of some “backradiation”,warmed the
      > water beneath more than it should be

      Not to rub it in, but this stuff can be measured, you know.

      http://www.bsrn.awi.de/

      You can even do it yourself like this guy did:

      http://www.realclimate.org/?comments_popup=7897#comment-208691

      After that, feel free to join the nuthouse 🙂

  10. So we’ve got a trace natural gas equivalented to pathogenic micro-organisms.
    Great! 🙂

    • Mack I know it’s hard to comprehend how such a tiny amount of something could be dangerous, but think about it for a moment. There are many examples in nature and medicine of such small amounts being extremely toxic and dangerous. Small amounts of certain poisons such as nerve gas can kill very quickly while others can kill an entire population if it gets in the drinking water. Small changes in the level of CO in the air will result in an increase in your bloodstream and brain damage, death. Inhale only a few microbes of anthrax and you can die. Same goes for rabies. Tiny imbalances in electrolytes in your blood can make your heart rhythm wacky, leading to sudden death. A few fibres of asbestos can lead to cancer down the road. I mcg of polonium will kill an 80kg adult. Something that can be innocuous in a very low dose can be lethal if the level increases outside a narrow band of tolerance.

      Your argument may be common sense, but wrong. That’s why we have science. Common sense just won’t do when it comes to finding the facts.

  11. Susan,
    The old “toxic to the planet” ruse will not wash with me.
    Take for example the flouridation of water. There are crackpots who think that by increasing a town’s flouride ion in the water from say a naturally occuring 0.02 ppm up to about 0.8ppm is going to poison the town. Cause Alzheimers,,you name it.
    Yet the initial studies finding that F’ reduced dental caries was conducted in cities in the US where there is naturally occuring F’ in the water of hundreds of ppm.and the only ill effects were mottling of the teeth.
    You see this is science.
    Your scar

  12. Your scary “climate science” hasn’t even got to the point where there is a link proven between CO2 and earth’s temperature.
    But hells teeth you’ve scared plenty of people 🙂

    • I welcome skeptics who can provide serious peer-reviewed evidence to counter the AGW consensus, but this “no evidence that CO2 has any link to earth’s temperature” is just plain bollocks.

  13. Thankyou Susan,
    At least you are calling me a sceptic . 🙂

    • Mack, I would call you a s(c|k)eptic too if you were one… I’m happy to be nice to folks but not at the expense of accuracy.
      I should have thanked you elsewhere for destroying your credibility all on your own… by the way did you know that infrared radiometers that measure the “back radiation” (why the quotation marks? You too would be frozen dead without it) from the sky cost under $100 nowadays? That’s one big market to lock up in the nuthouse…

      • But, but, but, GP, don’t you know Nasif Nahle showed climate scientists all wrong?

        Galileo Nahle is, as you know, a “professor”!

    • If you can provide serious peer-reviewed science that counters the AGW consensus, I will be only too happy to call you a skeptic, Mack. 🙂 If I were religious or believed in God, I’d pray for it so I could continue to live my comfortable oil-infused and gas-fed Western lifestyle without guilt. As I’m not and don’t, all I have is hope. So far my hopes have been dashed, for there just isn’t any.

  14. Pussycat (of Gavin)’,
    Take a read of this….(I hope your science is up to speed , It may take a couple of days 🙂 )
    http://jennifermarohasy.com/author/nasif-s-nahle/

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