You know how some people can’t just leave that half-pint of ice cream sitting in the fridge? You know you shouldn’t, but you can’t resist. I’m that way with climate change stories. So when a friend called to alert me to a local NPR call-in show with a climate change dissident, I couldn’t resist. The guest of Monday’s episode of WFAE’s hour-long “Charlotte Talks” was one Joel Schwartz, who seems to be an intelligent and fairly decent guy. But as the man (Dylan, not Schwartz) says, “sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace.” In this case Satan was a “scientist.”
This Joel Schwartz is described on the WFAE website as an “Institute scientist, Environmental consultant, The American Enterprise Institute” and “he happens to be a climatologist.” Sounds like a pretty authoritative fellow, one who might have some cogent and relevant things to say about global warming. But then, the episode is called “Why Al Gore is Wrong.” Uh oh.
Another red flag was waved by Charlotte Talks host by Mike Collins, who repeated described Schwartz as an unqualified “scientist,” as if that qualifies anyone to hold forth on any scientific subject. Unable to find any reference to any Joel Schwartz-authored peer-reviewed climatology through my DSL connection (being careful not to confuse him with this Harvard environmental epidemiologist of the same name), I wrote to WFAE, but received no reply.
Schwartz himself was more forthcoming, replying within the day (and apologizing for not responding sooner). He explained that he hasn’t written anything that has been peer-reviewed since grad school. He does have an M.S. in planetary science from the California Institute of Technology, but that was back in the early 1990s.
Joel Schwartz is an intelligent sort. He’s written lucid and insightful stuff, albeit for the likes of the American Enterprise and Cato institutes, clients with a penchant for ideology over science. But when it comes to climate change, as his WFAE interview demonstrates, he either doesn’t know what he’s talking about or has little concern for the facts. His point of view is littered with many of the common myths about climate science, including the notion that the Medieval Warm Period was warmer than today (it wasn’t), that the temperature decline between 1945 and 1970 undermines anthropogenic global warming models (it supports it), and there really is no consensus among climatologists (there is).
Schwartz has been touring North Carolina, talking about climate change, apparently in an effort to counter Al Gore’s climate slide show army (among them me). He’s also written a pamphlet, for the John Locke Foundation (a suitable companion for the American Enterprise and Cato institutes), “North Carolina Citizen’s Guide to Global Warming.” To get a sense of the tone of his little publication:
Gore says the only way to avert these disasters is through a ‘wrenching transformation’ of our way of life. As the Citizen’s Guide shows, this brand of over-the-top climate hysteria has nothing to do with reality.”
Of course, maybe I’m wrong and Schwartz is right. But why should a consultant for right-leaning and libertarian think tanks who hasn’t taken part in the scientific investigation of the issue be considered an expert? This is why I’m more disappointed with WFAE than Schwartz.
Calling him a “scientist” is disingenous at best. Al Gore is not a scientist, but he doesn’t claim to be one. I’m not really a scientist either; although I have a degree in biology, I don’t study life professionally, and don’t call myself one.
Science is a wonderful thing, and a good science education should make you capable of critically thinking about many things. But a degree in one field does not make you an expert in all fields. The media should ponder the notion of authority and expertise and little more deeply than did the producers at WFAE.