The Editors on Gregg Easterbrook:
I was going to do a whole thing about how disingenuous Gregg Easterbrook has been about global warming, but I see that Media Matters has already done a very thorough job. I would like to highlight one rather egregious item they missed, which comes from his dramatic announcement that, at long last, the science behind global warming has earned the coveted Gregg Easterbrook Seal of Sound Science:
When global-warming concerns became widespread, many argued that more scientific research was needed before any policy decisions. [sic] This was hardly just the contention of oil-company executives. “There is no evidence yet” of dangerous climate change, the National Academy of Sciences declared in 1991.
The thing is, Easterbrook was wrong about global warming, wrong and foolish, as he has been wrong and foolish about countless scientific questions over the years. This is not surprising, considering that he has no actual scientific background of any sort, and generally adopts a fashionably contrarian posture on whatever scientific topic he happens to be addressing. However, as he has (somehow) fashioned a professional career based on his “expertise” in “Environmental policy; Global warming; […] Science; Space policy”, it doesn’t look good if he is found out to be just another dilettante crackpot. So history – his, and everyone else’s – will have to be re-written, in order that he can claim that his anti-science position was informed, prudent, and consistent with the mainstream of scientific opinion. It was not.
The Editors explain why and wind up with:
The problem is that – for reasons I can’t begin to understand – Easterbrook is sitting in the chair that should be occupied by someone who knows what the hell they are talking about. There is no value added when you filter the ideas and opinions of experts through someone whose capacity for, and interest in, these subjects is so clearly limited. So now know-nothing Gregg Easterbrook believes that the science of global warming is solid enough to justify action. Who cares what Gregg Easterbrook thinks?
And just in case you think that Easterbrook’s research skills might have improved over the years: from a column written just this month:
At the same time, a bird flu pandemic appears extraordinarily unlikely. First, a pandemic would require the worrisome H5N1 strain to mutate significantly. Currently H5N1 is not transmissible from person to person. A bird can transmit the disease to another bird, and a person who is in close contact with an infected bird can catch it from the bird, but an infected person cannot transmit the disease to another person. Since the overwhelming majority of the global population never comes into close physical contact with birds, the existing H5N1 strain poses almost no threat — as evidenced by the low fatality numbers thus far. If bird flu mutated in a way that allowed person-to-person transmission, this would be very dangerous. But the odds of such a mutation appear low, as explained in depth here.
ScienceBlogs designated flu blogger, Tara Smith, writes:
Obviously, the biggest news of the moment is the Indonesian family cluster, which appears to not only be an example of human-to-human transmission, but one of three generations of transmission: index case (a 37-year-old woman) to family member #1, who spread it to family member #2, who spread it to family member #3. Overall, 7 members of the family have been infected; 6 have died. It’s worrisome for a number of reasons. First, we don’t know for sure how the index case became infected. Though poultry contact is assumed, no sick animals have been found in the area recently (though the virus has circulated previously in the area). Second, the size of the cluster (and obviously, the incredibly high mortality rate) are both alarming as well. Finally, they’re currently saying that there’s nothing notable about the virus sequence; it doesn’t seem to have mutated, but I think it’s a bit too soon to be able to know that for certain. (CIDRAP also has a nice overview).
Who should you get your information about bird flu from, Easterbrook or Smith?