The Intersection

I’m locking horns with Reason‘s Ronald Bailey early next month at the following conference put on by Michael Shermer’s Skeptics Society:

Why are we still debating climate change? How soon will we hit peak oil supply? When politics mix with science, what is being brewed? Join speakers from the left & the right, from the lab & the field, from industry & advocacy, as we air the ongoing debate about whether human activity is actually changing the climate of the planet.

Bailey and I are debating, for an hour, the question of “Distorting Science: Who’s Worse, The Left or the Right?” I don’t see how I can lose if the argument is about this country and he concedes to me that the religious conservatives are really bad about this–that’s half the cake right there. Then the real debate will come down to “who’s worse,” corporate interests on environmentalists…Here, Bailey and I may well differ. It certainly should be interesting. Debating tips welcomed….I’ll be blogging more anticipatory stuff as this gets closer.


  1. #1 Harris Contos
    May 5, 2006

    I am not familiar with the parties involved, indeed I am skeptical about the Skeptics Society (red flags go up when I see it described as “a scientific and educational organization that applies rational inquiry and journalistic research to claims made by scientists, historians, writers and politicians on a wide range of subjects,” that can mean just about anything, and when it does, usually not for the better) but the very description of the conference strikes me as more promotional than informative. I don’t know which is the nobler course of action to take, to apply a containment policy and confront the “neo-interpreters,” shall we say, at every turn, or to deny them the attention they seek through the benign neglect of not attending their foreordained events?

  2. #2 Brian S.
    May 5, 2006

    1. It should be self-evident to anyone involved in scientific consulting that corporations have more money to spend on distorting science to fit their ends. Enviros don’t have the money to hire biostitutes, so they have to use government and academic science. Government and academics have other forces pulling them towards credibility, they’re not just tools of the enviros, that corporate biostitutes don’t.

    2. While enviros have an incentive to exaggerate to motivate their base, they have a contrary incentive not to get caught exaggerating – this would demotivate the base. Scientific credibility doesn’t affect the corporate bottom line as much as it affects enviros need to have people trust them.

  3. #3 llewelly
    May 5, 2006

    Seems 10 or 12 years ago when I paid some attention to the Skeptics Society they expended most of their energy debunking dowsers, alt-archaeologists, psychics, and UFO-ologists.
    Has Crichton taken the place of the UFO-ologists? I suppose we’ll see.

    And I’ve been wondering how they feel about the AGW-denialists taking on the name ‘Skeptics’ …

  4. #4 Walter
    May 5, 2006

    No offense, but why are you doing this? According to the web site, Michael Crichton and ABC’s John Stossel are the “special guests” of this conference. Those two no more define skepticism than the pope defines Islam, and in fact it’s an insult for those two to be held up as models for skeptics given they’ve made their careers tearing down legitimate science. It is a bit like hosting a skeptic’s conference with two creationists as the main speakers. I enjoy much of Shermer’s work, but I also know he sometimes lets his libertarian politics get in the way of his objectivity, which I’m betting has taken place here. This conference looks very much like a day green-bashing dressed up as “skepticism,” with a few speakers from the other side to give the apparence of objectivity.

  5. #5 Ken Goldstein
    May 5, 2006

    Considering that two of the worst science abusers in the media, Jon Stoessel (an admitted data fabricator) and Michael Chricton are listed as “Featured Speakers” let’s just say I’m skeptical that Global Warming will be given a fair hearing. Remember that Stoesell regurally “debunks” scientific reports with PR statments from astroturf industry groups. Expect to hear the same discredited “debunkings” of Global Warming and Environmental Toxins brought out as if they were obvious facts that only the most deluded eco-nut hasn’t accepted yet. Also expect to hear business deregulation treated like a religous sacrament.

  6. #6 Chris Mooney
    May 5, 2006

    My reply is simple: There are people involved here who I respect, like Ron Bailey and Shermer. More generally, you’re right that “skeptics” need to stop giving cover to climate deniers, and I plan on telling them so. Also, I encourage you to look at the whole list of speakers: There are some very good mainstream experts on climate involved, like Gregory Benford and Tapio Schneider.

  7. #7 Chris D.
    May 5, 2006

    I don’t care for the session title: “Distorting Science: Who’s Worse, The Left or the Right?”. It creates a sense of equal culpability, which, as you say, is impossible to defend. So, the right wins a small victory right of the bat. I would have preferred: “Distorting Science: Views from the Left and Right.” At least that is neutral at the outset. Also, (as a Seinfeldian aside) what’s up with the colons? I mean, why does every academic or conference-session title have to have a colon in it? Someone should look into this. Maybe the paper could be titled “Clever Turns of Phrase: The Use of The Colon in Academic and Conference-Session Titles.” Maybe we could remove them with a colonoscopy.

  8. #8 lars
    May 5, 2006

    he sometimes lets his libertarian politics get in the way of his objectivity

    I don’t think that this is quite fair to Shermer, Walter – if you read Skeptic (with which Shermer is closely involved) regularly, controversial environmental topics seem (to my jaundiced eye) to be treated in an even-handed way. One indication of this is the way various Objectivist types invariably write in to complain about how Skeptic betrays its rationalist, skeptical agenda by not treating environmentalists as traitors to the human race, liars, fools, crypto-socialists, etc. whenever such a topic is dealt with. A publication which doesn’t allow the Randies and their fellow-travellers to devalue the term “skeptic” has a lot to be said for it, and I think that Shermer has a lot to do with this.

    On the other hand, Walter’s description does apply to Ronald Bailey, or it would if it were more strongly expressed.

    If you’re interested in debating tacks to take with Bailey, Chris, his contrascience views on the environment are something that he should be stuck with and not allowed to shuck, unless he really has changed. From what I’ve seen over at Hit and Run, there’s little evidence of this – it’s marvellous in its own dreary way – all Bailey has to do is say “Malthus” or “Ehrlich”, and it’s like what you’d get when you snap a cracker in an aviary full of parrots, without any of the aesthetic or intellectual benefits. It’d be funny if it wasn’t so sad…what am I saying, it is funny, uproarious, ludicrous…this is Bailey’s constituency, the reflexively anti-environmental Right, the steely-eyed, not-easily-fooled, rational and capable heros of cognition who will swallow absolutely any codswallop that allows them to believe in a high-tech libertarian dispensation; that’s who he writes for and whose viewpoint he promotes. Sort of like George Gilder – sharp as hell when it comes to ideologically-palatable science, but an astonishing mix of dishonesty and gullibility (an unfortunately glib, energetic and plausible one, I’ll grant you) when it comes to discounting any aspect of science which suggests that a human future with rocket packs, asteriod mining and indefinite life extension in it may take more than deregulation and beefed-up corporate intellectual property rights to bring it on. Nothing must be allowed to mar that vision of the 21st Century as an old Amazing Stories cover, inhabited by Heinleinian heros.

    Bailey’s one of the bad guys, Chris. The way he deals with ecology (have a look at The Real State of the Planet to see what sort of nonsense he promotes for the sake of ideological purity) is the way that he would deal with any of the sciences if it suited the libertarian Right. Put the boot in.

  9. #9 Benjamin Harrison
    May 5, 2006

    Schneider’s a smart fella. Baltimore and Goodstein are excellent public speakers in my experience. A thin “conference” however.

  10. #10 Walter
    May 6, 2006

    Sorry, didn’t mean to jump on you about the conference. And I take back what I said about Shermer, given I haven’t read any recent issues of Skeptic magazine and I found a short interview online in which he (very) briefly outlines his views on environmental issues:

    But while the overall speaker list is fine, the prominence of Crichton and Stossel deeply troubles me. These are not two people who simply criticize environmental groups for misrepresenting science — which would be a legitimate gripe — they go after the science itself, using their public platforms to distort and tear down evidence that counters their beliefs. Honestly, how do their tactics differ from the creationists who attack evolution? And given their records of distortion, what can they add to any discussion about the issue?

    Debate is fine, debate is healthy, but I’m getting a little tired of free-market ideologues hiding behind the skeptic label and the so-called skeptic community accommodating them as long as they take a few easy shots at religion and UFO believers. That seems to be how some of these anti-science rants are sneaking to skeptic publications and, yes, conferences. (Call it the “Penn & Teller Effect”) Skepticism involves a little more thought than just saying you’re a doubter, and it certainly is not about using the label to cushion your own beliefs.

  11. #11 Laurie Mann
    May 6, 2006

    I think one area where the left has been wrong and has used scare tactics for years to fight it has been nuclear power. Our current energy crisis is a combination of problems from the right (for refusing to encourage conservation) and from the left (for scare-mongering nuclear power, particularly after Three Mile Island). If this country had both conserved oil and embraced nuclear power and other forms of energy innovation, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in now.

    I also remember about twenty years ago, an attempt by the left to demonize the safety of computers. That rather fell apart over time, but…

  12. #12 laurence jewett
    May 6, 2006

    I think it is very appropriate to ask what it means to be a skeptic in this case.

    Gavin Schmidt posted the following about skepticism on Real Climate

    It includes the following comment regarding skepticism by Bertrand Russell:

    “There are matters about which those who have investigated them are agreed. There are other matters about which experts are not agreed. Even when experts all agree, they may well be mistaken. …. Nevertheless, the opinion of experts, when it is unanimous, must be accepted by non-experts as more likely to be right than the opposite opinion. The scepticism that I advocate amounts only to this: (1) that when the experts are agreed, the opposite opinion cannot be held to be certain; (2) that when they are not agreed, no opinion can be regarded as certain by a non-expert; and (3) that when they all hold that no sufficient grounds for a positive opinion exist, the ordinary man would do well to suspend his judgment.” — Bertrand Russell

    Under Russell’s definition for skepticism, the claim/implication that “Global warming is a Myth” would NOT qualify as legitimate skepticism (not under ANY of his 3 cases), since it implies CERTAINTY that Global warnming is a falsehood (one definition for myth) or at the very least CERTAINTY that it has no legitimate scientific basis (the “fanciful story” definition of myth.)

    Those who label global warming a “myth” or “hoax” are FAR from “entertaining scientific uncertainty”. They have in effect adopted the very position of certainty that they would decry in others.

  13. #13 laurence jewett
    May 6, 2006

    After looking at the list of distinguished speakers at the Skeptics’s Society “Environmental Wars” conference, I am REALLY puzzled by the inclusion of Michael Chrichton(????)

    Why would he be included? Because he wrote a book of pure fiction on Global Warming? Ore perhaps becasue he wrote books of pure fiction on this that and the other?

    Silly — both his books and his inclusion.

    With all the other people in the world that they COULD have asked to be guest speakers, I’M SKEPTICAL — of his inclusion.

  14. #14 Unstable Isotope
    May 6, 2006

    I think one argument that you could make is the role of power. Corporations and religious conservatives have a lot of power (they control all 3 branches of government) while environmentalists have very little.

    If you’re going to talk about science distortion, there has been a lot coming out recently about Plan B, including conversations about whether Plan B would discourage abstinence (as a part of a FDA decision?).

    I think you have a lot of ammo:
    George Deutsch at NASA
    Plan B
    redaction of the EPA report

  15. #15 Brian J
    May 6, 2006

    Chris: “More generally, you’re right that “skeptics” need to stop giving cover to climate deniers, and I plan on telling them so.”

    I very much hope that you can, since, as a “skeptic” (in the sense of Michael Shermer or James Randi) but not a climate denier, this is an issue that has really worried me over the last couple of years. It seems that on every other subject, from UFOs and astrology to creationism and alternative medicine, the instinct of skeptics has been to support mainstream science and scientists. However, on the subject of global warming this has unfortunately not been the case, and I fear that if this continues it could do lasting damage to the credibility of skeptics, especially with the strengthing consensus of the scientific community on this issue.

    That’s not to say that there not still legitimate debate over climate change, especially regarding the impacts and our political responses to it. However, much of the so-called “skepticism” on global warming has taken the form of discredited and illogical arguments, and conspiracy theories about corrupt scientists perpetrating large-scale fraud. Michael Crichton has been one of the worst people doing this, so I am disappointed that the Skeptic’s Society has given him a platform as a “keynote speaker” which threatens to legitimize his views. I strongly feel that skeptics should battle against the ideas of people like Crichton, in the same way as they do against anybody who offers pseudoscientific arguments.

  16. #16 gerald spezio
    May 6, 2006

    Twenty-five years ago Bucky Fuller wrote; “All of humanity is in peril; if each one of us does not dare, now and henceforth, always to tell only the truth and all the truth, and to do so promptly – right now.”

  17. #17 laurence jewett
    May 6, 2006

    Brian posted: “I fear that if this continues it could do lasting damage to the credibility of skeptics, especially with the strengthing consensus of the scientific community on this issue.”

    While I agree, I would only add that what we should probably be MOST worried about is the damage the “stretch-tics” (those who stretch skepticism to its breaking point for their own purposes) are doing to the “common perception of science” (what the average — scientifically illiterate — person thinks about science and its value to society).

    While they might be able to set back science temporarily (or even for hundreds of years), over the very long run, the stretch-tics can not damage science itself, because nature gives not a hoot what people think and will always have the final word.

    But such people CAN damage the standing of science and scientists with regard to making decisions that impact individuals and even society as a whole.

    By selling the idea that “scientific uncertainty means we are free to discard scientific findings and theories at will”, the “stretch-tics” certainly do a technological society like ours no favors.

  18. #18 ws
    May 6, 2006

    There is a long sordid history of scientific distortion in the US. Walter Mondale wrote a book 30+ years ago called Expendable Americans detailing some of this history. Good policy on limiting asbestos exposure was delayed for 50 years by the same tactics: “The research is inconclusive”, “The risk is overstated”, “There is disagreement among the researchers” (Manufactured controversy then as now).

    The British Commonwealth based their regulations on the real science and outlawed routine asbestos exposure in 1924. It took the US until about 1974. Great Book.

  19. #19 laurence jewett
    May 6, 2006

    Laurie Mann posted: “Our current energy crisis is a combination of problems from the right (for refusing to encourage conservation) and from the left (for scare-mongering nuclear power, particularly after Three Mile Island). If this country had both conserved oil and embraced nuclear power and other forms of energy innovation, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in now.”

    While I certainly won’t dispute that some have partaken in “fear mongering” with regard to nuclear power and while I also agree with the statement about conservation, I am dubious that building more nuclear plants could really have contributed much with regard to “avoiding the current situation” (or that it could help get us out of it now)

    First, by far, the most of the oil consumed by this country is used in the transportation sector (about 2/3) — ie, not to produce electricity (about 1/14).

    Second, as Amory Lovins and others have argued,
    nuclear power’s problems are largely ones of economics that have little if anything to do with “scare mongering” on the part of environmentalists over the years.

    Nuclear plants would have to be built safely, whether or not environmentalists protested or not (because the potential for disaster is REAL, not imagined, as Chernobyl demonstrated all too well). So one can not legitimately argue that it is UNNECESSARY safety masures that are making it uneconomical.

    But building new nuclear plants IS un-economical, nonetheless and this is primarily why none have been buit in years. Even with the large tax breaks and billions of dollars of other subsidies that the nuclear utilities have received over the last 30 years, it has simply been CHEAPER for the utilities to promote conservation (reducing electrical consumption through the use of more energy-efficient motors and appliances for example and thereby offsetting the need to build some new electrical plants) AND/OR to build and operate other electrical generating plants (coal, natural gas, oil, even wind) than it was to build and operate new nuclear plants.

    What was cheapest to do won the day in this case (as is usually the case).

  20. #20 Stefan Jones
    May 6, 2006

    The “we’re in this fix because lefties opposed nuclear power” deal is sheer hypocritical talking-point booshwa.

    Sorry, not talking point booshwa:

    It’s a crowing point.

    A smugging point.

    It is the latest bit of rhetoric from the folks who spent the last twenty years denying that global warming existed. It’s designed to distract us from the problem by smacking aside the finger pointing at real culprits.

    I’m actually for more use of nuclear power. I just don’t want to see the perception of a crisis used as an excuse to cut corners and promote corporate welfare.

  21. #21 Fred Bortz
    May 6, 2006


    Don’t get too focused on climate change here. It sounds like they might be going after oil supply issues as well, so you’ll need to brush up on that, too.

    It wouldn’t surprise you that I’ve reviewed two fairly recent books (Out of Gas and The End of Oil) on that topic, too. It was a lead article in the Dallas Morning News in 2004, was republished in a slightly updated form in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette last summer. and has been picked up by several nonprofit websites. I’d say the science in those books is sound, except the word has been misappropriated. So let’s say it’s “Solid Science” instead.


  22. #22 laurence jewett
    May 6, 2006

    WS posted: “There is a long sordid history of scientific distortion in the US.”


    Another obvious example is the distortion of “science” by tobaco companies claiming that smoking had NOT been proven dangerous (when their own studies indicated otherwise) and that they were NOT manipulating nicotine levels (when they WERE).

    I am not advocating “distortion of science” by anyone, but I do think think that when discussing “who’s worse” it is important to keep the “reasons for doing so” at the fore. Not all “distortion” is created equal — and “Not all distortion has equal costs to society associated with it”.

    At least some of distortion in the environmental area is undoubtedly done quite innocently (ie, unknowingly), by those who are genuinely concerned for the safety of their family and simply do not understand that the perceived threats from a given technology are not as large as they believe them to be.

    At the other extreme are those who knowingly and wantonly distort science (as with the case of cigarettes, asbestos, unsafe cars, etc) to maximum profits and/or minimize losses.

    The two cases should HARDLY be considered equal when deciding “who’s worse.” To do so would be ludicrous.

    But one not only has to consider the “possible reason for the distortion” (if there is one), one also has to consider the “cost to society of the distortion”.

    It is one thing if, for example, as a result of protest by environmentalists or others, a utility company has to do studies to prove the safety of their equipment, plants etc and possibly upgrade that equipment if it shown to be unsafe.

    BUT it is something else entirely when the wanton “scientific distortions” (lies) of companies result in disease and early death for hundreds or even thousands of people each year.

    When it comes to deciding “who’s worse” with regard to the above cases, its really a no-brainer.

  23. #23 Ken Goldstein
    May 6, 2006


    I think you’re failing to understand who Chris will be up against at this conference. They will not accept the argument that media scares and environmental protesters cannot be compared to the corporations that deliberately distort data in order to come to conclusions they know to be false. They believe that environmentalists are deliberately ignoring the overwhelming evidence showing them to be wrong in order to impose socialism and are causing great harm to people as a result. You are dealing with people who believe that Steve Milloy’s is a great scientific resource. Asbestos doesn’t hurt anybody. The Pinto and Corvair were perfectly safe. Second hand smoke is harmless. Mercury doesn’t cause birth defects. The aggregate effect of all environmental pollutants is to take only 3 days off the average person’s life. The cooling period between 1940 and 1970 completely debunks any relationship between CO2 and climate. All the things that Chris talks about in his book, they are the ones who believe them wholeheartedly and report them as facts. Take a look at the speeches that Crichton has been making lately.

    I used to be a big fan of the Skeptics movement when they limited their investigations to claims of the supernatural. But lately, they’ve been taken over by radical libertarians such as Penn Gillette and Trey Parker. Now corporate PR groups like The Center for Consumer Choice are considered equally as valid sources of information as The National Academy of Sciences. Chris is right; The Skeptics need to stop giving climate change deniers cover. But, it looks like they’ve decided to give them an honored spot on the dais instead. They would never even consider inviting a creationist to be a featured speaker, but they give Stossel and Crichton those positions without even a nod towards balance.

  24. #24 Mark Bahner
    May 7, 2006

    This is a comment I made to Ron Bailey on Reason Magazine’s “Hit and Run” blog (note: this version has a corrected spelling mistake, a correction to remove inappropriate quotation marks, and a correction to remove a repeated sentence):

    Hi Ron,

    I can’t seem to find a post on this subject elsewhere on Hit and Run (maybe I’m not patient enough), but I understand you’re going to be in a debate with Chris Mooney at a Skeptics Society conference in June.

    My understanding is that the (highly disappointing) topic is whether the “left” or the “right” abuse science more.

    I have a suggested alternative debate topic…and one that I think is perfect for the Skeptics Society: “Resolved: The IPCC Third Assessment Report ‘projections’ for methane atmospheric concentrations, CO2 emissions and atmospheric concentrations, and resulting temperature increases, constitute pseudoscientific rubbish.”

    You could take the Affirmative and absolutely destroy Chris Mooney. It would be a “Scopes Trial” moment.

    You could point out that:

    1) Without an assessment of probabilities, the “projections” are not scientifically valid, as Jesse Ausubel (11 year Fellow of the National Academies of Science, 5 year Program Director of the National Academy of Engineering) has pointed out.

    2) That because they have no assessment of probabilities, they are as scientifically invalid as the “Limits to Growth” series of books (30 years and counting of pseudoscientific alarmism).

    3) Even James Hansen has admitted that the “scenarios” with the most alarming results were presented to get the attention of the public, e.g., when he wrote in Scientific American in March 2004:

    “Emphasis on extreme scenarios may have been appropriate at one time, when the public and decision-makers were relatively unaware of the global warming issue, and energy sources such as “synfuels,” shale oil and tar sands were receiving strong consideration. Now, however, the need is for demonstrably objective climate forcing scenarios consistent with what is realistic under current conditions.”

    4) That the IPCC TAR comments on how the “scenarios” represent “alternative futures”:

    “Scenarios are images of the future or alternative futures. They are neither predictions nor forecasts.”

    …is so close to dialog from the Terminator movies, it’s hilarious.

    5) The methane atmospheric concentration projections were known to be false, even ***at the time of publication*** of the IPCC TAR.

    I could go on and on (as you probably know). But I hope you’ll push very hard for a change in the topic of the debate. As I wrote, I think the new topic would be absolutely perfect for the Skeptics Society’s mission (as I understand it) to debunk pseudoscience, and to substitute reason for mysticism.

    Best wishes,
    Mark Bahner

    P.S. I’m posting this same comment on Roger Pielke Jr.’s website…and even Chris Mooney’s blog. Of course, if Chris Mooney is smart (which he seems to be, based on what I’ve read), he won’t touch this topic with a ten-foot pole. He’d be crushed.

  25. #25 laurence jewett
    May 7, 2006

    Ken Goldstein: “Laurence,I think you’re failing to understand who Chris will be up against at this conference.”

    Could be. All I have to base my understanding on is what I have read by Bailey and Chrichton and on others’ analysis of what they have written (eg, by those at

    I also make the assumption — perhaps unwarranted — that because there will be a lot of very smart and truly skeptical people speaking (and presumably listening) at this conference (many of them very distinguished scientists), the standard of evidence for debaters will be set pretty high (certainly higher than the standard set in the average “Think Tank Rag”)

    I assume (again perhaps wrongly) that the debaters won’t be able to get away with simply making unsupported claims (“environmentalists are worse than businesses” with regard to distortion) without backing up those claims — at least not without looking foolish.

  26. #26 M1EK
    May 7, 2006

    You’re very wrong to respect Bailey – he’s been posting about climate change in his own sandbox long enough that it ought to be obvious that he’s fighting a rear-guard action against the truth here; NOT an honest scientific effort.

  27. #27 Jim
    May 7, 2006

    Crichton has ben very critical of organized skepticism in the past, see his book “Travels”. He has also supported nonsence like spoon bending. That he is now the keynote speaker at this event is just mind bogeling. Go get em Chris.

  28. #28 Steve Trombulak
    May 7, 2006

    The idea that the question of who’s worse can be meaningfully discussed implies that the magnitude and consequences of distortion can be objectively measured in a uniform way. I don’t think this is the case, however. The Right will argue that the Left is worse when measured by lost profits; The Left will argue that the Right is worse when measured by lost lives. Regardless of who is a featured speaker, the very premise of the discussion is flawed. Chris, my advice is to use at least part of your time doing a little verbal aikido on the conference title to make sure you don’t get judged by your inability to answer an unanswerable question.

  29. #29 Jim Lippard
    May 7, 2006

    Michael Crichton was supposed to be a speaker at last year’s Skeptics Society conference, but was fortunately replaced by Simpsons’ producer Mike Reiss.

    Crichton is definitely an odd choice, since he is also a promoter of paranormal claims.

    BTW, Ken Goldstein’s claim that John Stossel is “an admitted data fabricator” is one interpretation of what happened in his 2000 story on organic foods, another is that he made a mistake of interpretation about what tests ABC paid for had been done (mistaking a test for bacteria for a test for pesticide residue), which he then apologized for and corrected.

  30. #30 Walter
    May 8, 2006

    Ken, you put it far better than I did: “I used to be a big fan of the Skeptics movement when they limited their investigations to claims of the supernatural. But lately, they’ve been taken over by radical libertarians such as Penn Gillette and Trey Parker.”

    That’s been the source of my disillusionment as well. Although, in fairness, groups such as CSICOP continue to promote good science — remember chris had a column with them. And Bob Carroll over at the Skeptic’s Dictionary has pointed out the quackery to “junk science” writer Steve Milloy, as well as acknowledge he made a mistake when misled by Penn and Teller on the dangers of secondhand smoking.

  31. #31 M1EK
    May 8, 2006


    The question of “who’s worse” doesn’t have to be answered by referring to economic consequences – it can simply be answered by “who has been the worst at misrepresenting science”, and let the consequences be a separate discussion entirely.

    If you do it that way, it’s pretty darn clear that with the possible exception of the ‘science’ of economics, the US right-wing has been far worse than the US left-wing.

  32. #32 laurence jewett
    May 8, 2006

    I suggest that instead of just allowing Chrichton to give a keynote speech (essentially, lending him credibility and free air time) — in which he will undoubtedly be very reasonable (need not bring up ANY of his controversial claims, at any rate) — the Skeptics Society should have Chrichton DEBATE one-on-one a real climate scientist on the ideas that he (Chrichton) has been professing about Global Warming.

    Anyone at Real Climate (eg, Gavin Schmidt) would probably make an excellent debate opponent for Chrichton, since they are already familiar with (and have debunked) many of Chrichton’s claims.

    I already e-mailed Skeptics Society with the above proposal and urge others to do the same.

    I am not optimistic, but there is a chance that if enough people requested that Chrichton actually have to enage in debate (rather than simply being given a “free ticket” to speak), they might just change the format and require him to do so.

  33. #33 Ken Goldstein
    May 8, 2006

    “BTW, Ken Goldstein’s claim that John Stossel is “an admitted data fabricator” is one interpretation of what happened in his 2000 story on organic foods, another is that he made a mistake of interpretation about what tests ABC paid for had been done (mistaking a test for bacteria for a test for pesticide residue), which he then apologized for and corrected.”

    He calls it an “honest mistake”, I call it a lie. I call it a lie that would not only get anybody else fired but would destroy their credibility to the extant they would never be able to give a “featured” speech at such an event. He reported data from studies that were never done and left out data from studies that contradicted him. If an academic scientist published a paper and it was discovered that he had run experiments that contradicted his published findings that he ignored and that some of his data was from tests he never ran, he’d be guilty of scientific misconduct and out on his ass. He’d even face the possibility of criminal misconduct charges if his research was publicly funded (which most research is). Nobody would listen to his claims that data fabrication was “one interpretation” of what he did. Stossel gets to apologize for it, a veritable slap on the wrist.

    As for the bacteria study he says he “mistook” for the pesticide study, any microbiologist can tell you a non-specific test for bacteria is useless when testing for safety. Yet he put it in anyway as if it meant something because it told him what he wanted to hear and he knew his audience wouldn’t know the difference. He claims he left out the pesticide study because he wanted to focus on bacteria. Then why order the test to begin with? Because he thought he’d find higher or equal levels in organic poultry, but when he didn’t he pretended the data didn’t exist. You can bet that if he found what he was looking for he would have left it in. He has a long history of this sort of thing. He takes quotes out of context, he ignores information that doesn’t conform to his preconceived ideas and distorts the data he does get. The worst part is that he then goes around and whines and cries about how the liberals at ABC keep hounding him to put in balance with his reports despite the fact that he’s given far more latitude than anybody else. As Stossel would say “give me a break”.

    If Stossel was pro UFO’s and ESP or a Creationist and had his track record The Skeptics would consider him public enemy number one. But because he tells libertarians what they want to hear, he’s a “featured speaker”. This is supposed to be the sort of thing The Skeptics are supposed to be fighting against, not supporting.

  34. #34 Emrys Miller
    May 8, 2006

    Hello, this is Emrys, the webmaster at Skeptic and for the Environmental Wars conference. I didn’t organize the conference, and don’t know the speakers as well as Michael Shermer. But, I do know that the intention of the conference is to show as many angles as we can.

    In 2002, Skeptic magazine (vol 9 no 2) published an excerpt from Bjorn Lomborg’s The Skeptical Environmentalist. In the following pages of the same issue, we published David Pimentel’s Skeptical of the Skeptical Environmentalist. I can assure you that we don’t necessarily share the opinions of even our keynote speakers, and I can assure you that the conference won’t be dominantly denying climate change! I’m surprised that so many readers consider the inclusion of a topic or a speaker as an endorsement — considering who is hosting the event!

    Our intention at this short and inexpensive event is to host many topics of importance to the health of our planet, and to talk very seriously about them, but to also have fun with other parts of the event. If it sounds interesting, I encourage to you come, and to bring your opinions and challenges for the speakers.

  35. #35 Jim Lippard
    May 8, 2006


    ABC stated that the error came from producer David Fitzpatrick, who was suspended from his job as punishment. There seems to be good evidence that Fitzpatrick was confused based on his followup question to the researchers:
    “In a subsequent conversation with Dr. Crawford, when Mr. Fitzpatrick asked if pesticide tests had been performed, Dr. Crawford answered in the affirmative. Dr Crawford said in a recent interview that he did so because he was referring to the pesticide tests performed on the chicken.”

    Ken, you wrote: “He claims he left out the pesticide study because he wanted to focus on bacteria.”

    Actually, he said he left out the pesticide study (on chicken) because he wanted to focus on produce. I wouldn’t call your mistake a lie, and I don’t think there’s sufficient evidence on the basis of this particular incident to say that Stossel lied in his erroneous statement. Perhaps the other examples you have observed make a sufficient cumulative case.

  36. #36 SkookumPlanet
    May 9, 2006

    There are many ways to lie. At “Dispatches” a month ago, I posted [Pat “Rush” Stosselson Speaks!] about an hour-long Stossel program on education. He started by trashing U.S. public education by comparing it’s achievement to European public education. The remainder was an extended advertisement for the right’s education agenda. After the set-up segment he never returned to Europe and never checked to see how they did it.

    I said this is not stupidity, illogic, poor journalism or the like. It’s dishonesty.

  37. #37 laurence jewett
    May 9, 2006

    Emrys Miller from Skeptic Society posted above: “I can assure you that the conference won’t be dominantly denying climate change! I’m surprised that so many readers consider the inclusion of a topic or a speaker as an endorsement — considering who is hosting the event!”

    One certainly need not consider Skeptic’s invite of Chrichton an “endorsement of climate change denial” in order to question the invite. To imply as much is simply silly — or perhaps just an ingenuous way of deflecting legitimate criticism by making those who question the invite appear stupid.

    First, there are people who (like Chrichton) have questioned claims about global warming (about the amount of warming, for example) but who (unlike Chrichton) are actually legitimate climate scientists. So the “show as many angles as we can” argument for the Chrichton invite (instead of someone else) certainly does not tell the whole story (unless Skeptic Society really intends to “air any and all silly angles” which I somehow doubt)

    Then again, perhaps we are to believe that Skeptic invited Chrichton primarily to “stir up debate” on global warming. If THAT were the case, logic would suggest that Chrichton actually DEBATE, one-on-one with a climate scientist.

    But this is NOT what he is doing. He is giving a speech. Chrichton will be quite free to avoid any and all of his controversial ideas in such a speech, if he so chooses. Even if he CHOOSES to bring up such ideas, any “debate” (perhaps in a question period afterward) will be quite limited and largely controlled by him.

    Besides, Chrichton’s claims/confusions have ALREADY been thoroughly examined (and debunked) by scientists elsewhere

    There is little value to be had in rehashing Chrichton’s claims AGAIN at the Skeptic conference.

    It’s really hard NOT to conclude that Chrichton has been invited by Skeptic to their convention as a publicity stunt — ie to generate controversy and interest in the conference (and it seems to be working).

  38. #38 Ken Goldstein
    May 9, 2006


    You’re right. If it was an isolated incident then I’d assume it was an honest mistake. But, Stossel has a long a sordid history of doing these sorts of things. The liberal fact-checking group FAIR has a whole page dedicated to Stossel doing these very sorts of things repeatedly[/url]. Whatever you think of FAIR itself and its stated left-wing agenda, the incidents they cite go to a pattern of ignoring contradictory data, using industry groups as “unbiased” sources of information and distorting the data he does find to fit his preconceived notions.

    I don’t have a problem with the Skeptics having climate change deniers as featured speakers (although I do have a problem with both of them being so). But, being that there are honest critics of climate change who could argue the science against it, why Stossel and Chricton? Chricton’s book is full of factual errors and distortions of the current science as well deceptive statements as to the very definitions of global warming and climate and I’ve already covered Stossels history. Personally, I’m surprised you’re surprised at the response. With two such polarizing figures as featured speakers, what did you expect?

  39. #39 ChrisB
    May 11, 2006

    Wow, I’ve not checked this website for a few days, but I’m floored to find the barrage of messages here. Straw men beware!

    We have quite a bit of speculation about what the ‘Skeptics Society’ is about and what their position might be, most of which seems to be based on the libertarian politics of Michael Shermer and Penn Gillette, the fact that some AGW deniers have labelled themselves ‘skeptics’, and opinions assembled from someone having read a few issues of Skeptic magazine several years ago.

    I’m an ecologist, a promoter of science and critical thinking, and I’ve been a member of the Skeptics Society for about 10 years. I’ve attended a number of their annual conferences and have always enjoyed them as they have been a great opportunity to see prominent scientists speak on a wide range of topics. I will be in attendance at this meeting, and perhaps I’m being entirely naive, but I expect that the very compelling science that demonstrates anthropogenic effects on Earth’s climate will get more than a fair hearing.

    I too am a bit baffled by the inclusion of Stossel–whose work I have at best a mixed opinion of–and Crichton, who, considering his poor treatment of science and scientists in gerenal, not to mention his wacked opinions on climate change, I suspect will get less than a hero’s welcome.

    So lighten up, people. I can tell you than anyone I catch passing on corporate-driven pseudoscience will hear it from me, and I imagine they will be given grief by a number of other attendees (bullshit is pretty quick to get the bum’s rush at these things). I was happy to discover that Chris Mooney would be taking part, and there are a number of other very good scientists and specialists that I assume will be representing the side of sanity: that the evidence indicates that we are altering the climate and that we need to do something about it.

    While there is a sense that hosting climate change deniers gives their position more credence than it deserves–much like debating creationists–there is sometimes value in letting both sides have a go, as long as both sides are well represented. This has wrought a positive result in Dover on the ID issue, and I am hopeful that it will be the case for this conference.

    As further evidence that perhaps the Skeptics Society is something other than a den of rabid libertarian AGW deniers, I’ll point out that my first introduction to Chris Mooney’s book was made through a Skeptics Society e-mail, as was my initial introduction to Tim Flannery’s “The Weather Makers”. Flannery just spoke in the Skeptics’ regular monthly lecture series (it could be that you can still download the mp3 of his talk at their website–I know it was available for a while) and considering the nature of his book I don’t think that he’s the kind of author that would be welcomed by climate change deniers.

    And yes, the Skeptics Society has hosted creationist speakers at meetings dealing with evolution–with rather explosive results. So with all that, I guess I’ll wrap up by saying that I’m a Skeptic and reasonably proud of it, and I am continually baffled as to why so many people get their ire up when someone self-identifies as a Skeptic; to me it is simply the suggestion that walking around with your bullshit-meter turned on most of the time is a good thing–though I understand that you might get tired of listening to it going off constantly.

  40. #40 Ken Goldstein
    May 11, 2006

    ChrisB Posted:

    “I too am a bit baffled by the inclusion of Stossel–whose work I have at best a mixed opinion of–and Crichton, who, considering his poor treatment of science and scientists in gerenal, not to mention his wacked opinions on climate change, I suspect will get less than a hero’s welcome.”

    I’m very glad to hear that. My hope is that Stossel will find himself in a position to have his bullshit called by people whose statements he can’t edit so as to take out of context. If he finds himself faced with a room full of scientists who understand the science better than him and can point out his specious arguments against AGW (or at least point out what the findings he’s citing actually say), then my faith in the Skeptics movement will be restored (irony intended).

    But, do not assume that my problem with the Skeptics is with them hosting AGW deniers. I do not believe that giving them a platform to speak will give them validity. In fact, I believe by doing so we will give them the proverbial rope with which they may hang themselves. I also don’t mean to imply that The Skeptics are a bunch of radical libertarians, but by the inclusion of two men who have been two of the worst science abusers of recent times as featured speakers, I began to assume that my suspicions that they have begun to highjack an organization I have had the greatest respect for were true. I am obviously not alone in my feelings and perhaps this conference will expose divisions within the Skeptics movement itself. I guess that remains to be seen. However, since I will be 3,000 miles away in Boston, I will be unable to attend to see for myself. Hopefully Chris Mooney can give us a good report from Pasadena on the proceedings.

  41. #41 Spike
    May 11, 2006

    I don’t want to sidetrack this thread talking here about libertarianism, so please point me to a blog where I can address some of the misconceptions about libertarianism that have been put forth here. For instance, if you think John Stossel and Penn Jillet are libertarians, then you need to examine your own claims to skepticism. I’m a libertarian and nothing like them. And, to borrow from ChrisB, just because someone self-identifies as something don’t make it so.

    In which case, maybe -I’m- not indentifying myself correctly? I say I’m a libertarian, even ran as a Libertarian candidate for my state house of reps. But if I have to be like Stossel and Jillet to be a lib, then I guess I need a new political philosophy. So, please let me know where to go to *rationally* discuss the pros and cons of libertarianism, and what alternatives there could be, and I’ll meet you there.


  42. #42 laurence jewett
    May 12, 2006

    I liken the argument made by Skeptic to include Chrichton and Stossel (“show as many angles as we can”**) to the one to include Intelligent Design in the classroom: “teach the controversy.”

    It’s a pathetic argument in both cases.

    By the way, for those of us who think Skeptic is way off base in this case (out in left field), I think the best approach is simply to STAY away from their conference — now and in the future — and inform others.

    **From above post by Skeptic’s Emrys Miller

  43. #43 Jim Lippard
    May 14, 2006

    “For instance, if you think John Stossel and Penn Jillet are libertarians, then you need to examine your own claims to skepticism. I’m a libertarian and nothing like them.”

    Libertarianism has different flavors. John Stossel and Penn Jillette both self-identify as libertarians and fit well within the limits of variation among libertarians. Ditto for Shermer.

  44. #44 Ed Darrell
    May 16, 2006

    If it’s corporate interests vs. environmental groups on the left, will you at least point out along the way that the corporate interests are bound by securities laws to tell the truth? Especially when it comes to liabilities a company may face, corporations must lay it out, accurately, before any stock offering, and quarterly in their 10K filings.

    Of course, as you know, often corporations don’t do that. Investors are thereby misled, etc., etc. Our economy depends on corporations being honest most of the time. Our pensions, our 401Ks, 403Bs, etc., hang on the accuracy of those statements.

    Is this fellow you’re debating going to argue it’s okay for corporations to fib in those places?

  45. #45 Todd
    May 16, 2006

    I cannot let the “what is a libertarian?” question go without pointing out that outside of the United States, the word libertarian means something very different than what it does here. Libertarians outside the US are socialists, which may sound strange to some of you, but the word was first used by political thinkers like Proudhon and Bakhunin. When someone labels themself a libertarian (which I do), I’m always careful to determine whether they are using the classic form, or the American form.

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