by Judith Curry
Nature Climate Change published a review of the James Lawrence Powell’s book “The Inquisition of Climate Science.” The review, written by Fred Pearce, is titled “Sceptical about Sceptics.”
The Inquisition of Climate Science, by James Lawrence Powell.
Modern science is under the greatest and most successful attack in recent history. An industry of denial, abetted by news media and “info-tainment” broadcasters more interested in selling controversy than presenting facts, has duped half the American public into rejecting the facts of climate science — an overwhelming body of rigorously vetted scientific evidence showing that human-caused, carbon-based emissions are linked to warming the Earth. The industry of climate science denial is succeeding: public acceptance has declined even as the scientific evidence for global warming has increased. It is vital that the public understand how anti-science ideologues, pseudo-scientists, and non-scientists have bamboozled them. We cannot afford to get global warming wrong — yet we are, thanks to deniers and their methods.
The Inquisition of Climate Science is the first book to comprehensively take on the climate science denial movement and the deniers themselves, exposing their lack of credentials, their extensive industry funding, and their failure to provide any alternative theory to explain the observed evidence of warming. In this book, readers meet the most prominent deniers while dissecting their credentials, arguments, and lack of objectivity. James Lawrence Powell shows that the deniers use a wide variety of deceptive rhetorical techniques, many stretching back to ancient Greece. Carefully researched, fully referenced, and compellingly written, his book clearly reveals that the evidence of global warming is real and that an industry of denial has deceived the American public, putting them and their grandchildren at risk.
Review comments cited by amazon.com:
“The most comprehensive, illuminating and searing account yet of the murky world of climate change denial and the charlatans who populate it.” — Irish Times
“Powell consistently brings the sharp insight of a knowledgeable insider melded with the skepticism of a critical outsider to the most important issues in science. In his latest book–his best yet–he shows us the path to understanding climate change.”–Peter D. Ward , The University of Washington
“James Lawrence Powell’s must-read book is a welcome addition to the growing literature debunking fossil fuel-funded, anti-science disinformation. As Powell makes clear, it is time for scientists to stand up and be counted.”–Joseph Romm, editor of Climate Progress and senior fellow at American Progress
This book is a winner, written in an easy, logical style with thorough and fascinating discussions of major deniers. (Orrin Pilkey, Duke University, coauthor of The Rising Sea 7/9/2011)
With the evidence for global warming so strong, why, Powell asks, does half the American public doubt it? His answer is a history of the campaign of denial, the most comprehensive and up-to-date history available. It is well written and well worth reading: this is the most important issue facing our generation. (Spencer Weart, author of The Discovery of Global Warming )
This courageous and well-researched book exposes how ideologues and money combined to attack sound climate science. (Richard Somerville, University of California, San Diego, author of The Forgiving Air: Understanding Environmental Change, second edition )
… this is a highly authoritative and accessible book that should be read by everyone who has any doubts about the reality of climate change. (Irish Times )
Fred Pearce’s Review
I haven’t read the book, and don’t have any plans to. While glancing through an issue of Nature Climate Science, my eye was drawn to the title “Sceptical about sceptics,” which is the title of Fred Pearce’s review of the book. The review is behind paywall, so I will excerpt liberally from the text. The content of the review is of significance, beyond the review of this particular book.
My dictionary describes the Spanish Inquisition as “an institution that guarded the orthodoxy of Catholicism in Spain, chiefly by the persecution of heretics”. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Spain and Italy were dangerous places for those exploring ‘unorthodox’ ideas. Those accused of non-Catholic beliefs or actions were subjected to horrific torture during the inquisition’s tribunals to produce a confession, which would lead to their punishment and, often, death. Among those interrogated was the astronomer Galileo, who was forced to recant on his statements on heliocentrality, despite there being no evidence to support the Church-held geocentric view. In the twenty-first century, is climate science being judged by an inquisition of climate deniers in a similarly unscientific way?
The Inquisition of Climate Science by geologist James Powell claims just that.
But are things so simple? Do climate scientists share blame for the way they react to criticism? Sadly, in his rush to defend climate science, Powell does not address these queastions, and so he becomes part of the problem, too. The boot often seems to be on the other foot. For Powell is the man guarding the orthodoxy on climate science, and deviation invites demonization. Powell’s world echoes that of George W. Bush, in which “if ou are not for us, you are against us.” Should science be like this?
The book is full of crazy sceptics, from Palin to US radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh . . .
This plain man’s guide to the climate wars is right to take on these sceptics, and for the most part does it well. However although these individuals are fair game, they are also easy game. The central flaw of this book is that Powell fails to take on the serious and coherent critiques of the climate change consensus. Where in this book are Judy Curry of Georgia Institute of Technology, the Universiyt of Colorado’s Roger Pielke Jr, the Unversity of Alabama’s John Christy and others? All three are renowned academics, yet they each have also been reasoned critics of the orthodox climate science canon, and of their fellow researchers, in specific areas. Arguments from credible science like these can be used by the climate change deniers to bolster their non-scientific case. As such, they cannot be ignored.
It seems that Powell leaves them out because they would complicate a simple story. He ends up conflating such reasoned sceptics with unreasoned deniers, and including among them those who do not criticize the the science at all, but question climate change policy, such as the Danish economist Bjorn Lomborg. Doing so undermines Powell’s case and leaves him open to the charge of running his own inquisition.
The truth is that we know less than we sometimes think about climate change.
Nor do we know what the full impacts of warming will be on wider Earth systems, or how adaptable nature and human civilizations may prove to be. There are many reasons for scientists to be humble, and calling those who engage in debating such issues ‘deniers’ is foolish fundamentalism. It plays into the hands of the real deniers and mislabels good scientists.
In his final chapter, Powell says that the issue “comes down to trust”, adding that “the American public has always trusted scientists”. Powell omits to mention that half the American public does not trust them on climate science. Because he never admits this, he never asks why this unusual breakdown has occured and why the deniers are succeeding.
The corporate special interest groups have certainly played their part. However by failing to tackle legitimate criticisms of the scientific consensus, books like Powell’s are also part of the problem.
JC’s comments: I met Fred Pearce at the Lisbon Workshop on Reconciliation in the Climate Debate. Since his book “The Climate Files: The Battle for the Truth About Global Warming,” I have viewed Pearce as one of a few truly important voices in the media on the subject of climate change. This review certainly reinforces my view.
Update: Andy Revkin has a post on “A map of organized climate change denial.” His intro paragraph:
A chart of “key components of the climate change denial machine” has been produced by Riley E. Dunlap, regents professor of sociology at Oklahoma State University, and Aaron M. McCright, an associate professor of sociology at Michigan State University. The diagram below (reproduced here with permission) is from a chapter the two researchers wrote on organized opposition to efforts to curb greenhouse gases for the new Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society.
Kip Hansen (comment #8) responds:
Folks, this chart is utter nonsense. In the real world, that is, outside of two-party politics, there are no such entities as Corporate America, Fossil Fuel Industry, or Conservative Foundations. These are not cohesive entities, working together in some sort of conspiracy to fund climate skepticism. Those who say so, or ‘find’ these in the soft-science ‘studies’ are practicing politics, not science. All they are pointing out is that the Liberal/Democrats generally support climate alarmism and its proposed IPCC-style solutions of central control to reduce CO2 emissions, , and the Conservative/Republican/Libertarians support a more skeptical viewpoint and non-governmental solutions if problem are found to be real.
As Mr. Revkin knows very well, the most persuasive voices on the skeptics side are bloggers who are self-funding and mainstream skeptical scientists who get their grants from the same sources that CAGW scientists do, mostly the federal government.
These sorts of name-calling political cat fights should not be given any sort of public airing, particularly this statement, which is certainly categorically false ‘That there are such well-financed and coordinated efforts is not contentious.’ It is not only contentious, it is not simply a matter of contention and argument, but from my front porch, it is simply a false statement made and repeated by zealots.
I am sure that politically, there are ties between various political groups sharing a common viewpoint, equally the same on both sides of the climate issue. The BIG money, of course, is paid out and spent on the CAGW side and has always been.
The same type of nasty little charts were used to ‘prove’ such things as the ‘Jewish Bankers Secretly Rule the World ‘ conspiracy theories of the last century — showing that — surprise — banks were linked to one another by economic and money-flow lines. This chart is no different — produced to vilify enemies and ‘prove’ a false conspiracy theory.