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?


  1. #1 Carl Christensen
    May 28, 2006

    Reminds me a lot of Fred Singer, who in the past has said smoking isn’t bad for you, the ozone hole is a myth, DDT is great; now (mirabile dictu!) global warming is a hoax.

    I think there’s a lot of “grumpy old science men” that just feel annoyed that their old observations aren’t being used (Bill Gray) etc; and a lot of “the teacher is now the student” fears (Lindzen). Their gripes aren’t science, and their stubbornness & egos preclude them from being a meaningful part of anything other than an old argument from authority.

  2. #2 Pinko Punko
    May 28, 2006

    Easterbrook operates in a bubble filled with a gaseous substance made up of his own assumed credibility. He is a ridiculous individual. I would love to ask him about the study of Intelligent Design at top universities. It must exist because he said so.

  3. #3 laurence jewett
    May 28, 2006

    TL aksed “Who should you get your information about bird flu from, Easterbrook or Smith?”

    I’d get my information from Smith — but I’d probably get my bird flu from Easterbrook.

  4. #4 Jeff Harvey
    May 29, 2006

    Easterbrook’s earlier claim to fame was authoring the monumentally erroneous anti-environmental book, “A Moment on the Earth” (1995), which challenges Bjorn Lomborg’s equally vacuous tome in terms of the nonsense factor. Until BL’s book came out, Easterbrook was the darling of the CEI, Reason Foundation, CATO and other corporate funded think tanks and the political right as the ‘liberal who had seen the light’. BL simply stole his thunder. Every few years a new book is written by someone with no credentials whatsoever who alleges to be be ‘left-leaning’ but then asserts that ‘everything is fine with the world, and is, in fact, getting better’. They are then wined and dined by the political and corporate elites who are anxious to promote a ‘business-as-usual’ ethos.

  5. #5 w.
    May 29, 2006

    I agree completely about Easterbrook’s (lack) of scientific credentials, etc. But isn’t it at least good to have one professional pundit abandon the anti-climate-change side of things and admit that it is real and we need to worry? Not because of his qualifications but because of his readership?

    Oh, and I’d rather get my info on AI from Smith than Easterbrook, too.

  6. #6 orson
    November 1, 2006

    Tim calls Easterbook’s stances “contrarian posture” “fashonable.”

    I don’t know about any other lurkers here, but I don’t know of any contrarian positions that are “fashionable.” For example, I’m against the second-hand smoking crusades currently fashionable in the US – and I see no evidence that my informed skepticism has ever been “fashionable.”

    Methinks he protests too much. (As usual.)

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