Law professor Glenn Reynolds calls Al Gore a fuddy-duddy:

How to be a 21st century fuddy-duddy.

Reynolds’ source is novelist Roger L Simon, who writes:

What fascinates about Al Gore is not – as this article from the Chicago Sun-Times shows so clearly – that he is full of hooey when it comes to his global warming “scientific” pronouncements. It is that so many people believe him and that he is more popular than ever.

As so much has changed in our society, fuddy-duddy “liberalism” has become the most conventional or, dare I say it, conservative of belief systems. It’s almost as if the novels of Sinclair Lewis have been resurrected in our times with Al as Babbitt or Elmer Gantry – actually a bizarre contemporary combination of the two. We have a public, most of which does not have any serious or formal scientific training in climatology – listening to the opinions of someone who may have even less.

Oddly enough, Simon’s supporting link goes to an article by the Heritage Foundation’s James Taylor, who has no serious or formal scientific training in climatology. Or for that matter in any area of science. Taylor has a BA and JD.

If you ask climate scientists, rather than law professors or novelists or BAs from the Heartland Institute, they will tell you:

How well does the film handle the science? Admirably, I thought. It is remarkably up to date, with reference to some of the very latest research. Discussion of recent changes in Antarctica and Greenland are expertly laid out. He also does a very good job in talking about the relationship between sea surface temperature and hurricane intensity. As one might expect, he uses the Katrina disaster to underscore the point that climate change may have serious impacts on society, but he doesn’t highlight the connection any more than is appropriate

But hey, maybe Taylor identifies some science that Gore got wrong. Let’s see, Taylor writes:

For example, Gore claims that Himalayan glaciers are shrinking and global warming is to blame. Yet the September 2006 issue of the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate reported, “Glaciers are growing in the Himalayan Mountains, confounding global warming alarmists who recently claimed the glaciers were shrinking and that global warming was to blame.”

The September 2006 issue of the Journal of Climate does contain a paper about Himalayan Glaciers, but Taylor’s quote is a fabrication. What the paper actually says is:

The observed downward trend in summer temperature and runoff is consistent with the observed thickening and expansion of Karakoram glaciers, in contrast to widespread decay and retreat in the eastern Himalayas. This suggests that the western Himalayas are showing a different response to global warming than other parts of the globe.

So the glaciers feeding just one of the seven major rivers that flow from the Himalayas are expanding, but the rest are shrinking and global warming is to blame, just as Gore said. The IPCC WG2 recently concluded:

Glacier melt in the Himalayas is projected to increase flooding, rock avalanches from destabilised slopes, and affect water resources within the next two to three decades. This will be followed by decreased river flows as the glaciers recede.

So the scientists, even including the paper Taylor misrepresented agree with Gore.

Taylor then has:

Gore claims the snowcap atop Africa’s Mt. Kilimanjaro is shrinking and that global warming is to blame. Yet according to the November 23, 2003, issue of Nature magazine, “Although it’s tempting to blame the ice loss on global warming, researchers think that deforestation of the mountain’s foothills is the more likely culprit. Without the forests’ humidity, previously moisture-laden winds blew dry. No longer replenished with water, the ice is evaporating in the strong equatorial sunshine.”

But ice sheet expert Eric Steig points out:

The Heartland Institute’s propagation of the notion that the Kilimanjaro glacier retreat has been proved to be due to deforestation is even more egregious. They quote “an article published in Nature” by Betsy Mason (“African ice under wraps,” Nature, 24 November, 2003) which contains the statement “Although it’s tempting to blame the ice loss on global warming, researchers think that deforestation of the mountain’s foothills is the more likely culprit.” Elsewhere, Heartland refers to this as a “study.” The “study” is in reality no scientific study at all, but a news piece devoted almost entirely to Euan Nesbit’s proposal to save the Kilimanjaro glacier by wrapping it in a giant tarp. The article never says who the “experts” are, nor does it quote any scientific studies supporting the claim.

Steig also cautions that the retreat of the Kilimanjaro might not be due to global warming:

Kilimanjaro has attracted special attention not because it is an unusually important indicator of tropical climate change, but because it is well known through the widely read Hemingway short story. If anything, it is the widespread retreat of the whole population of tropical glaciers that provides the most telling story. Perhaps one can regard the Kilimanjaro glaciers as a kind of “poster child” standing in for this whole population. It is not yet clear whether this photogenic and charismatic poster child is a good choice for the role.

(See also this post from Mark Hoofnagle.)

Next Taylor has:

Gore claims global warming is causing more tornadoes. Yet the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated in February that there has been no scientific link established between global warming and tornadoes.

Gore did not explicitly claim that global warming causes more tornadoes, but he did imply it. Taylor has found a mistake that Gore has made but he also given the game away. If he cites the IPCC here, why doesn’t he cite the IPCC assessment, which presents the scientific consensus on the other points? The answer is because it supports Gore. The only other time Taylor cit
es the IPCC is here:

And the U.N. Climate Change panel reported in February 2007 that Antarctica is unlikely to lose any ice mass during the remainder of the century.

And that doesn’t fairly summarise what the IPCC reported, which was:

Current global model studies project that the Antarctic Ice Sheet will remain too cold for widespread surface melting and is expected to gain in mass due to increased snowfall. However, net loss of ice mass could occur if dynamical ice discharge dominates the ice sheet mass balance.

But why would Glenn Reynolds pay attention to the scientists when there are non-scientists telling him stuff he wants to believe?

Comments

  1. #1 John H. Morrison
    July 1, 2007

    If a non-scientist goes out and pontificates on scientific matters, he’d better do his homework to get it right. Al Gore has done his, and gets it mostly right.

    On the other hand, we have a huge number of law professors, economists, public-policy “experts”, etc. who think they know more about science than working scientists. In reality, they don’t have a clue. Some are actual liars, though — perhaps lying for what they believe is the Truth.

    Just for completion, we also have genuine climate scientists and former climate scientists, such as Michaels and Lindzen, who lie to the public about climate science. Again, perhaps they lie for what they believe is the Truth. I refer to them (along with the likes of Hugh Ross) when I say that there has to be a special place in Hell for scientists who lie to the public about science.

  2. #2 derek
    July 1, 2007

    When a religious defender accuses atheism of being “just like a religion” like that’s a bad thing, you have to wonder how good they think religion really is. When a conservative “accuses” a liberal of being a conservative, it signals that even they think conservative is a crummy shameful thing to be.

  3. #3 QrazyQat
    July 1, 2007

    What Reynolds is calling being a fuddy-duddy is more accurately called being a grownup. The rightwing is a bunch of kids running around yelling and crying and wetting their pants with fear at the first signs of trouble; the leftwing is where the grownups are. They like to say, in the USA, that the GOP is the “Daddy” party, but the real party of daddies, and for that matter, mommies and families, is the Democratic Party… the Republican Party is the “Crazy Uncle” party.

  4. #4 JakeB
    July 1, 2007

    QQ–
    Well, maybe the Republican party is more like the “Who’s your Daddy?” party.

  5. #5 Ian Gould
    July 1, 2007

    Isn’t fabricating quotes a breach of journalistic ethics.

    Let me guess, Taylor’s a “commentator” not a journalist and therefore exempt.

  6. #6 Abe G.
    July 2, 2007

    Taylor’s quote on Humalayan glaciers does have a source–himself. A lil’ googlin’ shows the exact same sentence in a Heartland institute post.

    Ah, smell the arrogance.

  7. #7 Scott
    July 2, 2007

    Well put QQ, in the bizzaro world that is the contemporary GOP (oh that’s right, G.R. isn’t a Republican, he’s a libertarian, except for when those pay checks from Tennessee come in twice a month) being a fuddy-duddy means telling someone something the don’t want to hear. I actually consider myself a small gov’t conservative. What the “center-right” blogosphere has forgotten is that sometimes a sober studying of the facts leads you to a conclusion that doesn’t fit in neatly with pre-conceived notions of free market fundamentalism. The evidence for man-made global warming is overwhelming, and it is long past time for government action.

  8. #8 Hasse
    July 2, 2007

    Maybe James Taylor are relying all too heavily on the climate science clearing house over at co2science.org? The Journal of Climate paper is summarised there;

    http://www.co2science.org/scripts/CO2ScienceB2C/articles/V10/N10/C2.jsp

  9. #9 bigcitylib
    July 2, 2007

    Has Mr. Gore adjusted his standard lecture to account for Philip Mote’s results on the Kilimajaro glaciers? If not, he should.

    I think it is important to acknowledge where certain effects once attributed to AGW have been shown to have other causes. In this way,you can show a contrast with Denier rhetoric (how, for example, they’re still flogging the “warming on Mars” thing).

  10. #10 Carrick
    July 2, 2007

    How well does the film handle the science? Admirably, I thought.

    LMAO! Anybody who takes the realclimate folks as unbiased or pretends that they play it down the middle (to paraphrase Dan Okrent) have been reading the news with their eyes closed. It’s a friggin’ advocacy site!

    For a more honest assessment, see this.

    Most scientists agree that what Gore presented was full of factual errors and exaggerations, going well beyond what the best science tells us is true. The argument is much more about whether in total, he did more harm than good, rather than whether what he said was accurate.

    Few unbiased scientists would accept the premise that it doesn’t contain substantial flaws that were made deliberately to increase the impact of the story. I call those “lies”, but that’s just me personally…

  11. #11 Carrick
    July 2, 2007

    By the way, the comment about the Himalayan glaciers was in fact made by Gore in speeches that he gave. For example

    In the next 10 to 15 years, Gore said in the speech, there will be no more snow on Kilimanjaro, and the melting of Himalayan glaciers will result in a sharp decline in the availability of fresh water for people along the rivers and streams that come from the mountain. The frequency of large natural disasters related to more flooding, more drought and stronger storms is increasing.

  12. #12 Abe G,
    July 2, 2007

    Carrick,

    Broad’s piece has been taken apart in detail here and elsewhere. Anyone can say “most scinetists” this and “most scientists” that. Doesn’t mean much, especially to anyone curious enough to delve into the literature.

    But I guess it’s okay for James M. Taylor to make up quotations and misrepresent the research, right?

  13. #13 Abe G.
    July 2, 2007

    Here’s the link to Tim’s Broad disapproval:

    http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2007/03/broadly_misrepresenting.php

  14. #14 dhogaza
    July 2, 2007

    LMAO! Anybody who takes the realclimate folks as unbiased or pretends that they play it down the middle (to paraphrase Dan Okrent) have been reading the news with their eyes closed. It’s a friggin’ advocacy site!

    Yes, they advocate for science.

    Which presumably is a sin in your eyes.

    They’ve got a couple of new articles up on the physics of IR absorbtion by CO2.

    Care to tell where they’re wrong? Since they’re just a “friggin’ advocacy site” it should be easy for you, right?

  15. #15 Mike
    July 2, 2007

    Most scientists agree that what Gore presented was full of factual errors and exaggerations….Carrick

    On the contrary, scientists have backed Gore on the science.
    Anyone making claims that are refuted so easily must be extremely proud of the ignorance they flaunt.

  16. #16 Steve Bloom
    July 2, 2007

    Tim, you unwittingly perpetuated a point of geographic confusion about glaciers in the Tibetan region when you referred to “glaciers feeding just one of the seven major rivers that flow from the Himalayas.” Only two of those rivers can be said to originate in part from the Himalayas, and strictly speaking the Karakoram and Hundu Kush ranges discussed in the paper aren’t even part of the Himalayas (although the JoC paper authors clearly referred to them as the “western Himalayas”). Anyway, the important point is that the paper discussed a pretty small region (feeding just one of the rivers as you correctly note), but that when people hear “Himalayas” or “western Himalayas” out of context they tend to imagine respectively either the whole or half of the entire complex. Of course the Heartland dweebs can claim not a shred of honest confusion.

    The JoC paper got immediate attention in denialist circles when it first came out last year, which is when I learned all about the geography of the region. It also occurred to me to wonder whether there were any Indian science pubs that include relevant material, and indeed there is at least one. A quick google of “glacier” in that journal gives unsurprising results. There’s apparently even more Chinese material on the general subject of Tibetan-region glacier melt, but irritatingly most of it’s in Chinese.

    See also this current Journal of Glaciology paper for a more comprehensive discussion of the present behavior of the Karakoram glaciers (note that the public link is not permanent).

  17. #17 Ian Gould
    July 2, 2007

    Carrick: “By the way, the comment about the Himalayan glaciers was in fact made by Gore in speeches that he gave…”

    Wrong comment. We’re interested in the fake quote Taylor uses to rebut Gore.

  18. #18 Ian Gould
    July 2, 2007

    “For a more honest assessment, see this.

    Most scientists agree that what Gore presented was full of factual errors and exaggerations, going well beyond what the best science tells us is true. The argument is much more about whether in total, he did more harm than good, rather than whether what he said was accurate.”

    No, the author of the article spoke exclusively to denialists (except for a couple of people who later claimed their words were misrepresented and taken out of context).

    It’s much like going to the Discovery Institute to get an unbiased view on whether Stephen Jay Gould got his facts right in The Panda’s Thumb.

  19. #19 z
    July 2, 2007

    “On the other hand, we have a huge number of law professors, economists, public-policy “experts”, etc. who think they know more about science than working scientists. In reality, they don’t have a clue. Some are actual liars, though — perhaps lying for what they believe is the Truth.”

    These guys have years of training in using language to portray logical arguments to bolster a predetermined point, and have been rewarded for being successful at this for years. Perhaps even since birth; perhaps there is a behavioral predisposition that leads them to choose this path. The “scientists” to grab a term to portray the other type of folks, come from another background, and are trained/rewarded/preordained to let the logical pluses and minuses of the possible hypotheses and explanations work themselves out and in the end what survives tells them what to believe.

    Now, in fact, it’s not all as black and white as that, but there’s your two worlds, and very seldom shall the twain meet, let alone understand each other. Even personality theorists tell you that the gut-feeling types and the data-driven types have a real hard time communicating, understanding, trusting, and respecting each other.

  20. #20 meatbrain
    July 4, 2007

    The full text of the Journal of Climate article is available in PDF format, and can also be found as plain HTML through the magic of Google’s cache.

  21. #21 Ed Darrell
    July 8, 2007

    Al Gore is good on technical issues. He was right about wildflowers (don’t mow ‘em). He was right about organ tranplants (we needed registries to make them easier to match, and more fair, and more timely; we needed legislation to make the immunosupressives available). Gore was right about orphan drugs, but he only lent support there. Gore was right about ARPANET — computer-to-computer communication was quite effective, and a marvelous way for military groups to communicate with one another, as well as a boon to science communication.

    I can’t think of a science issue where Gore was simply off-the-wall dead wrong. (He should have pushed the voting stuff in Florida more fiercely in 2000, I thought; time has proven Gore right in his assessment that Bush would be less than beneficial for the nation).

    What has Glenn Reynolds ever been right about? Where is his record on science change better than Gore’s?