Nierenberg

[This is my 600th post!]

Oreskes says:

So Reagan commissioned a third report [this appears to be false: see below -W] about global warming from Bill Nierenberg, who had made his name working on the Manhattan Project developing America’s atom bomb. He went on to run the Scripps Institution of Oceanography where he had built up the Climate Research Division. And he was a Jason. Nierenberg’s report was unusual in that individual chapters were written by different authors. Many of these chapters recorded mainstream scientific thinking similar to the Charney and Jason reports. But the key chapter was Nierenberg’s synthesis – which chose largely to ignore the scientific consensus.

His basic message was “calm down, everybody”. He argued that while climate change would undoubtedly pose challenges for society, this was nothing new. He highlighted the adaptability that had made humans so successful through the centuries. He argued that it would be many years before climate change became a significant problem. And he emphasised that with so much time at our disposal, there was a good chance that technological solutions would be found. “[The] knowledge we can gain in coming years should be more beneficial than a lack of action will be damaging; a programme of action without a programme for learning could be costly and ineffective. [So] our recommendations call for ‘research, monitoring, vigilance and an open mind’.”

Unfortunately, this is all I can find, and it isn’t enough. I can’t decide from that if “which chose largely to ignore the scientific consensus” is fair or not. If the report was all about the science, especially the state of the science in 1983, then it won’t hve said much about impacts or consequences. So N’s synthesis may have been entirely fair (although given that he was picked by Reagan to write the thing, he must have known what was wanted, and was probably picked in advance because he would have been sympathetic to that view).

In other words, there is no point blaming N. Someone else would have done it. The blame lies with the overall political culture of the time, which wasn’t ready for action based on the state of the science as it was then (which isn’t so unreasonable, since *we* don’t seem very ready to do anything, and the science now is far far stronger. Indeed, you could probably make a very good case that action in 1983 based on the science of the time would have been quite premature).

Unsurprisingly, the desmoggers have a different take.

Update: OK, so Eli quotes OCS to say:

Nierenberg’s principal tactic was to rely on the arguments provided by the two economists. At the first full discussion of the issues facing the committee, both Schelling and Nordhaus introduced the idea that climate change was not necessarily bad, that most likely it would have both negative and positive effects. Nordhaus wanted to evaluate costs and benefits, suggesting that although he “suspected that the impacts of increasing carbon dioxide would be negative,” they might not be, and it would be hard to prove either way, given the complexity of social and economic systems.

Weeeellll… call me a septic but that doesn’t sound terrible to me. Perhaps its all in the tone you say it. I’ve ordered the N volume via abe (thanks Hank) so will be in a better position in a week or so…

Also: Sylvia says of the N report that it “never should have made it through peer review”. I was going to ask her “Which specific bits do you think are wrong?” but her captcha stuff was so irritating and mangled my comment so often I gave up. So I’m asking here.

[Update: a comment from H: Let's not lose track of the first two reports (and the authors thereof, if any are available or have written memoirs of their participation). It would be most interesting to compare not just their content but their citations -- to see which papers were relied on throughout (or led to subsequently cited papers in the later reports); which lines of thought
held up and did not hold up; and why this somehow became history without ever becoming part of policy planning.
]

[The exec summary is now available! See http://www.nicolasnierenberg.com/ for the worlds biggest pdf; or my screen capture here: e1, e2, e3, e4. Caution: I have changed but one word (I promise). You may not notice...]

More updates: Atmoz has appendix 3. Quoting him: “The date was June 30, 1980; before Reagan took office”. So Oreskes is wrong: Reagan didn’t commission the thing.

Comments

  1. #1 silence
    2008/09/09

    There’s a fellow by who posts under the name (pseudonym?) of Ron Broberg on theoildrum.com who claims to have tracked down a copy of JSR-78-07.

    Hopefully he’ll scan it and post it for all to see.

  2. #2 silence
    2008/09/09

    Looks like there is already an online pdf of the document.

  3. #3 silence
    2008/09/09

    Bah. Almost but not quite. My link goes to a contemporary document which isn’t the actual JASON report.

  4. #4 P. Lewis
    2008/09/09

    JSR-78-07 abstract and details of availability. No e-copy. So, unless someone has scanned it …

  5. #5 Eli Rabett
    2008/09/09

    Not so. Of course you would have to read Rabett Run to know this and of course the links therein.

    Nierenberg took the science report he got and with the help of Yohe and Nordhaus pulled the smiling Lomborg, minimizing problems and maximizing costs of meeting those problems. You would do well to read Sylvia Tognetti on this, also linked at the best climate blog run by a bunny where you read it first.

  6. #6 Atmoz
    2008/09/09

    I found it easily enough in the library. I know that’s an unfamiliar word to some, especially in the age of Teh Google ™.

    [Fair point. I still have a UL card, so could in theory borrow it. You wouldn't know its UL shelf mark would you? -W]

  7. #7 Atmoz
    2008/09/09

    I should clarify that I found the Nierenberg report, not JSR-78-07.

  8. #8 Thomas
    2008/09/10

    “Someone else would have done it”. Now, that’s one of the worst excuses ever.

  9. #9 Sylvia Tognetti
    2008/09/10

    You should read the longer paper by Oreskes, linked to on my post, first brought to my attention by the Rabbett of course… But having worked at the NAS, though not at the same time, I am puzzled by the statement that Nierenberg was picked by Reagan. It is possible that the NAS was leaned on to pick him, but the basis for the authority of the NAS is that it is independent, first established by Lincoln to have a source of scientific advice that was independent of the biases of experts within the agencies. That said, I was involved in one study, requested by a former president in a State of the Union address, in which the White House was quite surprised they wouldn’t even get to see a draft. I also learned that in practice, it isn’t a monolithic institution, and some boards within the Academy, who did most of their work for single agencies in narrow subject areas, were more subject to “agency capture.” Informally, it was also said that the place was, “once upon a time” known as the “best little whorehouse in Texas” because agencies could get studies saying what they wanted them to say. But at the time I worked there, we were assured that those days were long gone.

    If anyone finds the Nierenberg 1983 report online anywhere, please do post a link. I’ve been looking for it…

  10. #10 P. Lewis
    2008/09/10

    Hat tip to TokyoTom: slightly OT re Nierenberg, but link for JSR-78-07

  11. #11 thingsbreak
    2008/09/10

    P. Lewis- that’s the Charney report.

    [Oops, you're right. Fooled me for a moment -W]

  12. #12 P. Lewis
    2008/09/10

    Rats!

    I didn’t check it out thoroughly enough (obviously). Ah well, I’ll let them find out for themselves over at Deltoid.

  13. #13 Atmoz
    2008/09/10

    I’m not exactly sure what a UL shelf mark is, but hopefully this is enough information to find it easily.

    Changing climate : report / of the Carbon Dioxide Assessment Committee, Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics, and Resources, National Research Council.

    ISBN-10: 0309034256
    ISBN-13: 9780309034258

  14. #14 Nicolas Nierenberg
    2008/09/10

    The 1983 report “Changing Climate” was a publication of the NAS Climate Research Board. The Reagan connection is an Oreskes fabrication. The report was specifically requested by the Congress during Jimmy Carter’s administration. The CRB was appointed by the NAS and was in place prior to Reagan’s election.

    The introduction clearly states that the executive summary and the synthesis were the consensus view of all the members of the CRB. The members of the CRB were;

    William A. Nierenberg (Chairman) SIO, Peter G. Brewer Woods Hole/NSF, Lester Machta NOAA, William D. Nordhaus Yale, Roger R. Revelle UCSD, Thomas C. Schelling Harvard, Joseph Smagorinsky Princeton, Paul E. Waggoner, Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, George M. Woodwell Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole

    The idea that Dr. Nierenberg somehow got all these distinguished scientists to agree to something they didn’t believe is ludicrous and Oreskes presents no evidence to this effect.

    Both the synthesis and the executive summary largely focused on the scientific issues and is in line with the consensus of the time, and largely with today’s consensus. It in no way stated that the problem didn’t exist or would go away on its own.

    [Hello. Thanks for your comment. Ever so slightly curious... how did you find this? -W]

  15. #15 bi -- IJI
    2008/09/10

    (cross-posted to DeSmogBlog)

    So Nicolas, according to you, W. Nierenberg was saying that global warming is real, and that it is a serious problem that requires urgent attention?

    If that is so, why do you think Oreskes did what she did? What is her “agenda” exactly, if it has nothing to do with any disagreement over the global warming theory (since you assert that there’s no disagreement anyway)?

    — bi, International Journal of Inactivism

  16. #16 pough
    2008/09/10

    That last commenter has a very familiar-sounding last name…

  17. #17 bi -- IJI
    2008/09/10

    Yep, I noticed. :) No matter — I’d have responded with the same question even if someone else brought up this account.

    — bi, International Journal of Inactivism

  18. #18 Hank Roberts
    2008/09/10

    Once you know the ISBN to look for, Book Burro will find copies.
    Set the Preferences for your nearby libraries, and for used booksellers of your choice.
    It’s an extension, for Firefox: http://bookburro.org/

    http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?bi=0&bx=off&ds=30&sortby=2&sts=t&x=79&y=15&cm_ven=PFX&cm_cat=affiliates&cm_pla=links&cm_ite=k131337&isbn=0309034256&pfxid=a_107477243

  19. #19 Hank Roberts
    2008/09/10

    > knowledge we can gain in coming years should be more beneficial than a lack of action will be damaging

    Climatology’s “peace in our time” quote, right there.

  20. #20 Atmoz
    2008/09/10

    “Ever so slightly curious… how did you find this?”

    Probably by Google Blogsearch.

  21. #21 Nicolas Nierenberg
    2008/09/10

    Yes Dr. Nierenberg was my father. He passed away eight years ago so it is left to me to respond to this nonsense.

    What I am asserting is what I said in my post. The 1983 report speaks for itself and was the joint conclusion of some of the most distinguished scientists of the time. It was a publication of the National Academy of Sciences and was not commissioned by the Reagan administration.

    I don’t fully understand Dr. Oreskes motives other than to make a name for herself at the expense of someone who is not in a position to defend himself.

    [I've ordered the report, so will be in a position to judge it for myself in a week or two. In the meantime, you and Oreskes seem to disagree about who commissioned it. This must be resolvable authoritatively -W]

  22. #22 Eli Rabett
    2008/09/10

    Mr. Nierenberg, Prof. Oreskes has already made a name for herself so that tactic is a loser from the start.

    [Not conclusive. You know as well as I that academics need to keep publishing. But I don't think this is a useful way of finding out who is telling the truth -W]

    While you are quite welcome to try any tactic you wish, the fact is that Prof. Oreskes has raised a number of serious issues. No one is interested in dumping on the dead for sport, but the fact is that your dad has a lot to answer for in the policies that he advocated and the costs that they are continuing to impose. If you would care to discuss these, perhaps you might start by reading the articles published by Prof. Oreskes and I am sure she would be interested in talking with you, especially in light of any new information you could bring.

    [Yes, I agree: O has raised some serious issues. I'm going to read the report for myself to find out part of them. In the meantime, finding out if she is right about Reagan commissioning the report will be a start -W]

  23. #23 Nicolas Nierenberg
    2008/09/10

    Mr. Rabett (if that is your name). I am not trying any tactic,and I resent the implication. I was asked for motives, so I responded. You don’t think that is a good one, that’s fine.

    I don’t know why you assume I haven’t read her paper. I have read it and I have written, along with others, a rather lengthy rebuttal which I will be posting shortly.

    Your tone seems rather mean spirited, but perhaps that is how blogs work.

    I have corresponded with Dr. Oreskes, she is not interested in new information. That is why I finally decided to write a rebuttal.

    For the moment I wanted to clear up the misrepresentations in the article that was referenced. Does it bother you at all that this information is completely wrong? It is easy to check whether I am correct.

  24. #24 Nicolas Nierenberg
    2008/09/10

    Mr. Connolley

    I am glad you are getting a copy of the report. You will find the charge to the committee from congress in Annex 3. Checking the dates of the commmitte formation and work (even in the Oreskes paper) will confirm the timing relative to the Reagan administration. The committee was formed, and Dr. Nierenberg was made the chair prior to Reagan’s election. The report was published in 1983 during the Reagan administration.

  25. #25 Atmoz
    2008/09/10

    I was working from home today, thus no access to the library. However, tomorrow I’ll check (and scan, if possible) Annex 3 from the NAS report.

    Is there anything else that would be of interest? I’ve skimmed it, and found a few odd things. However, I don’t know if that’s only because it was the current level of scientific understanding at the time.

    [A scan of who-commissioned-this would be great. Nierenberg's "synthesis" would be the next obvious one -W]

  26. #26 Nicolas Nierenberg
    2008/09/10

    Well frankly what suprised me the most after reading Oreskes’ paper was how much it is similar to the current IPCC views. I believe it had the first comprehensive forecast for the growth of CO2 in the atmosphere. Before that time scientists were pretty much extrapolating. The forecast in the report has held up pretty well. There is also an interesting chapter on how large carbon taxes would have to be to sufficiently reduce fossil fuel use. I’m not sure if the conclusions would still be considered correct, obviously nothing has worked so far.

  27. #27 Nicolas Nierenberg
    2008/09/10

    Mr. Connelly in response to your question I found the report at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography library. Most people wouldn’t have been able to get access to the other source documents that Oreskes et al cite in their paper, but I was able to get access to those documents and I refer to them in the rebuttal that I will be posting.

  28. #28 Nicolas Nierenberg
    2008/09/10

    I have just posted a scanned version of the executive summary at http://www.nicolasnierenberg.com. I apologize for the amateur web site and the fact that the scan is so large.

    [Thanks. I've taken the liberty of screen-shotting it and uploading those here; its considerably smaller that way. If you care to, you may of course copy "my" jpg's -W]

  29. #29 Eli Rabett
    2008/09/10

    John Mashey just put up a response at deSmogBlog. This appears to be moving in parallel but, because it is relevant I will quote a part of what John wrote

    “I sent this to Dr. George M. Woodwell, who is one of the few *scientists* on that committee still alive.
    You can read a little about him at:
    http://www.whrc.org/about_us/whos_who/staff.htm

    He replied almost immediately, and kindly gave his permission to quote what he said, so I will, in its entirety:

    “Dear Dr. Mashey:
    Yes, I remember well that committee and how it was controlled and deflected by new economic influences as the environmental issues appeared to become acute. The study was under the auspices of the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, not the National Science Foundation. We resorted to individual papers because we could not agree, or see any way to agree, on a single report. Even within my own paper there was systematic pressure to dilute the statements and the conclusions. I had previously written and signed along with Roger Revelle, Davide Keeling, and Gordon MacDonald a stronger statement for the CEQ at the end of the Carter administration. That statement was widely publicized by Gus Speth, then Chairman of CEQ, and ultimately used in testimony in the Congress and as bakground for the Global 2000 Report published by CEQ in 1980.

    As far as the summary statement of the Report was concerned, as the Preface states: there were “no major dissents”. That means no one chose to fight with the chairman. It was poor, sickly job, deliberately made so for political reasons characteristic of the corruption of governmental purpose in the Reagan regime. Naomi Oreskes has it right. GMW”

    YMMV

    [Aha. Thanks -W]

  30. #30 Eli Rabett
    2008/09/10

    Sorry, that one got away, but I was going to add

    YMMV and I suspect we will be hearing differently from Yohe, Nordhaus and Schelling who are still with us.

  31. #31 Eli Rabett
    2008/09/10

    Eli appears to have entered the weird post zone, so this was the first post in the YMMV series:

    John Mashey has an important comment at DeSmogBlog where he quotes correspondence he had with George Woodall, a surviving scientist from the NAS report

    “Dear Dr. Mashey:
    Yes, I remember well that committee and how it was controlled and deflected by new economic influences as the environmental issues appeared to become acute. The study was under the auspices of the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, not the National Science Foundation. We resorted to individual papers because we could not agree, or see any way to agree, on a single report. Even within my own paper there was systematic pressure to dilute the statements and the conclusions. I had previously written and signed along with Roger Revelle, Davide Keeling, and Gordon MacDonald a stronger statement for the CEQ at the end of the Carter administration. That statement was widely publicized by Gus Speth, then Chairman of CEQ, and ultimately used in testimony in the Congress and as bakground for the Global 2000 Report publishe by CEQ in 1980.

    As far as the summary statement of the Report was concerned, as the Preface states: there were “no major dissents”. That means no one chose to fight with the chairman. It was poor, sickly job, deliberately made so for political reasons characteristic of the corruption of governmental purpose in the Reagan regime. Naomi Oreskes has it right. GMW”

    As Eli said YMMV and he would not be very surprised to hear different from Yohe, Nordhaus and Schelling.

  32. #32 Nicolas Nierenberg
    2008/09/11

    What is not clear is how this means that the report was commissioned by Reagan. Nothing in the above quote says that Dr. Nierenberg hijacked the result, just that Woodwell may not have agreed with all the conclusions. But in any event there is no record of his objection at the time that Oreskes et al produces. (Or even a current objection I might add.)

    I seriously don’t believe that you even read the executive summary that I just posted.

  33. #33 Hank Roberts
    2008/09/11

    Let’s not lose track of the first two reports (and the authors thereof, if any are available or have written memoirs of their participation). It would be most interesting to compare not just their content but their citations — to see which papers were relied on throughout (or led to subsequently cited papers in the later reports); which lines of thought held up and did not hold up; and why this somehow became history without ever becoming part of policy planning.

    It’s often more what isn’t done than what is done that makes history.

    As was said in other contexts, what’s most interesting is what which Presidents knew about this subject, and which of them haven’t had the advantage of knowing it.

  34. #34 TokyoTom
    2008/09/11

    By bad about confusing the Jason report and the Charney report. The Charney is online at the NAP; references and bibliography start here:

    http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=12181&page=18

    The Charney report cites the following as authors of the Jason report:

    MacDonald, G.F., H.Abarbanel, P.Carruthers, J.Chamberlain, H.Foley, W.Munk, W. Nierenberg, O.Rothaus, M.Ruderman, J.Vesecky, and F.Zachariasen

  35. #35 bi -- IJI
    2008/09/11

    (cross-posted to DeSmogBlog)

    From the copy of the executive summary on N. Nierenberg’s own site:

    (a) Research and development should give some priority to the enhancement of long-term energy options that are not based on combustion of fossil fuels. (Chapters 1, 2, 9)

    (b) We do not believe, however, that the evidence at hand about CO2-induced climate change would support steps to change current fuel-use patterns away from fossil fuels. Such steps may be necessary or desirable at some time in the future, and we should certainly think carefully about costs and benefits of such steps; but the very near future would be better spent improving our knowledge (including knowledge of energy and other processes leading to creation of greenhouse gases) than in changing fuel mix or use. (Chapters 1, 2, 9)

    (c) It is possible that steps to control costly climate change should start with non-CO2 greenhouse gases. While our studies focused chiefly on CO2, fragmentary evidence suggests that non-CO2 greenhouse gases may be as important a set of determinants as CO2 itself. While the costs of climate change from non-CO2 gases would be the same as those from CO2, the control of emissions of some non-CO2 gases may be more easily achieved. (Chapters 1, 2, 4, 9)

    So the recommendations are more climate research plus “some priority” to development of alternative fuels, and other than that, nothing. It’s clear from this that Oreskes was right at least on one count: W. Nierenberg was prescribing inaction.

    How did N. Nierenberg manage to read this as “very much in line with views [...] in the present”?

  36. #36 cce
    2008/09/11

    Nicolas Nierenberg,

    I made a smaller version of the executive summary that you posted.

    It is available here:
    http://cce.890m.com/executive_summary.pdf

    As I read it, it is a perfectly reasonable summary until it gets to suggestion b — That is, the idea that there just wasn’t enough reason to shift away from fossil fuels. This is a bit absurd given the findings summarized in the rest of the report, not to mention all the other reasons to shift away from fossil fuels, all of which should have been excruciatingly obvious in the early ’80s. There was more scientific backing to do this than, say, devoting untold billions to “Star Wars.”

  37. Oreskes was cited in the credits for the first episode of “Earth: the Climate Wars” shown on BBC TWO last sunday. It can be seen again here, on the BBC iPlayer.

    The first of three episodes ended with the claim that Regan had appointed Bill Nierenberg, and a promise that the next episode will show the real battle.

    William, you may not like what precedes that!

    [Its not more tripe about global cooling, is it? And you're sugesting the prog is a reliable source? -W]

    [Oh lordy. It *is* more cooling sh*t*. Well there goes the BBC's reputation: more interested in hyperbole and conflict that fact. Lord Reith will be spinning... -W]

    Cheers, Alastair.

  38. #38 Eli Rabett
    2008/09/11

    It is probably not a good thing to fisk a comment, but what the heck. First Nicholas Nierenberg as NN second George Woodall as GW, moi ER

    NN: Nothing in the above quote says that Dr. Nierenberg hijacked the result, just that Woodwell may not have agreed with all the conclusions.

    GW: Yes, I remember well that committee and how it was controlled and deflected by new economic influences as the environmental issues appeared to become acute.

    ER: What is missing is who brought in the new economic influences. Oreskes papers have references to direct evidence that it was Dr. Nierenberg. Moreover later in the letter GW says

    GW: As far as the summary statement of the Report was concerned, as the Preface states: there were “no major dissents”. That means no one chose to fight with the chairman. It was poor, sickly job, deliberately made so for political reasons characteristic of the corruption of governmental purpose in the Reagan regime. Naomi Oreskes has it right.

    ER: And somewhat earlier in this correspondence we had NN saying

    NN: The introduction clearly states that the executive summary and the synthesis were the consensus view of all the members of the CRB. . . .The idea that Dr. Nierenberg somehow got all these distinguished scientists to agree to something they didn’t believe is ludicrous and Oreskes presents no evidence to this effect.

    ER: Except on the most formal level there is a direct contradiction between NN and GW

    NN: But in any event there is no record of his objection at the time that Oreskes et al produces. (Or even a current objection I might add.)

    ER: Are you claiming that Mashey has made this up or are you simply trying to imply it? Please be clear.

  39. #39 Nicolas Nierenberg
    2008/09/11

    cce,

    Thank you for fixing the scanned file, I have reposted your smaller version to my site.

    Yes I agree that in today’s context item (b) of the 20th out of 21 bullets in the executive summary would be stated much more strongly. I ask you to remember that this was 1983 and the science and record was much newer.

    I am much more focused on the first 19 bullets which clearly lay out the issue and the consequences. Including a call for international cooperation on the problem.

    It is worth noting that neither the MacDonald paper (JASON), or the Charney paper had any policy recommendations at all.

  40. #40 Nicolas Nierenber
    2008/09/11

    Mr. Rabett

    You say that Oreskes et al show that Dr. Nierenberg brought in the economists to the panel. I believe that they assert that but provide no evidence to that effect. Maybe you could locate the evidence that I missed.

    The charge to the committee from the US Congress specifically asked for an economic and social look at the problem. This is the most logical reason why economists were included.

    I have corresponded with Dr. Woodwell, he clearly feels that he at least did not agree with the entire report. He feels that the environment affected the result. He also states that others would not agree with him about this.

    I don’t think it is so unusual that out of a large committee not everyone would agree with everything in a result. My specific point is that there is nothing in the committee minutes, or in any subsequent correspondence from the period that reflects this dissent. I don’t know why Dr. Woodwell chose not to react at the time.

    And what I really don’t want to get lost in all of this is the fact that my original assertion is indisputable, Dr. Nierenberg was in place as the committee chairman with a charge from the US Congress prior to Reagan being elected.

    (Even if they repeated this on tv!)

  41. #41 Nicolas Nierenberg
    2008/09/11

    bi,

    I was referring to the scientific conclusions. This was a scientific panel primarily. The first 19 points in the executive summary were primarily scientific in nature. The earlier reports did not contain policy recommendations. Neither do the IPCC reports.

    While I don’t think the policy recommendations were out of line for the time, I could see how others might feel differently. But all policy makers were free to read the the executive summary, the synthesis, and of course the body of the report and decide that they didn’t care for these very brief recommendations. The entire executive summary was printed on the front page of the New York Times.

  42. #42 Atmoz
    2008/09/11

    I’ve got a copy of Annex 3 of Changing Climate on my blog. It’s not in PDF format, but is almost identical to the text in the NAS report. I’m reading through the foreward of Changing Climate now (by Thomas F. Malone, Chairman, Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate). It states that:

    In response to the congressional mandate, the Carbon Dioxide Assessment Committee (CDAC) was formed under his [Nierenberg's] leadership to develop a plan to accomplish the requested study.

    With support from OSTP, the Committee developed a preliminary plan, which was provided to OSTP [the Office of Science and Technology Policy] for comment in January 1981.

    [emphasis added]

  43. #43 Nicolas Nierenberg
    2008/09/11

    This whole discussion began with my criticism of Oreskes’ claim in her popular article that Reagan wanted the 1983 report and appointed Nierenberg to the job. Some have claimed that Oreskes is a careful researcher, but apparently she doesn’t even rely on her own material. This is directly from the paper that she published on this subject.

    “Ribicoff’s amendment was incorporated into the Energy Security Act, signed into law in June 1980 by President Jimmy Carter, which created the Synthetic Fuels Corporation to promote the development of synthetic fuels from coal, oilshale, and tar sands. The worry that global warming might be the Achilles heel of American energy policy was implicitly recognized by Title VII, which provided up to $3 million for “a comprehensive study of the projected impact, on the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, of fossil fuel combustion, coal-conversion, and related syntheticfuel.”

    While the formal charge to the new committee was not formulated until June of the following year, a committee was already in place by October 1980, with Nierenberg as its
    chair.”

    (Oreskes et al page 122

    For those of you who require a review Ronald Reagan was elected in November 1980 and took office in January the following year. The statement in the Oreskes popular article and I guess on the tv show seem pretty reckless to me.

    [See my latest post. I think the answer is that the Times online piece is broken. Oreskes scholarly work is correct about N's appointment (but even there, there are strangenesses) -W]

  44. #44 Hank Roberts
    2008/09/12

    Anyone asked about this yet at the Times comment thread?
    I tried, hasn’t appeared yet. From their article, I’m curious what the word “commissioned” means to their fact checker.

    Were the economists’ contributions already in the material collected for the report during Carter’s administration?

    Did Carter actually commission a report that wouldn’t be completed until after the election? He was an optimist, at least til the October Surprise.

    My guess is that the chapters from the climate scientists already existed, and that Reagan’s staff commissioned something like “take this report Carter wanted, add some economics-as-usual, and wrap it up with a summary saying it supports our current policy.”

    Not likely a decision by Reagan, but rather by “the court that makes the king” (Vladimir Putin).

  45. #45 Nicolas Nierenbgerg
    2008/09/13

    Mr. Roberts,

    You don’t need to guess. The minutes of the meetings of the CDAC are available, and were referred to by Oreskes et al. They never claim the report was already written. This is exactly what it seems, it was a scientific report that was largely independent of election cycles.

  46. #46 John Mashey
    2008/09/13

    0) This is an exercise in hairsplitting for diversion from the serious history, and I don’t normally do hairsplitting, but just this once… just don’t ask me to argue endlessly whether some particular surface station averaged 20.05 or 20.1C last year…

    I was wrong to say that “commission” was wrong. Reviewing the real paper, of which many pages are condensed to one sentence, and considering the various meanings of the word commission, it’s *quite* accurate, although there might be less ambiguous phrasings. But if people are going to argue about one word, I’ll argue that the most typical meaning is just fine.

    1) But, first read the Chicken Little paper, either the published paper, or the almost-identical
    working version, which is freely available.
    I side-by-side compared them, and there were one or two footnotes fixed, some made into Ibids, a few quote marks changed. Anyway, I’ll refer to the free version. The TimesOnLine article is a brief summary.

    2) The complaint is about the sentence:

    “So Reagan commissioned a third report about global warming from Bill Nierenberg…”

    One might complain about the use of “Reagan”, as it is unclear whether this was Reagan himself, or people in his administration. However, people often use X for convenience, rather than saying “some members of the X administration” or “advisors of X”, so I will also.

    It did *not* say that Reagan appointed Nierenberg. He didn’t.

    It did *not* say that Carter appointed Nierenberg. He didn’t either.

    It didn’t say that Carter/Congress had *not* commissioned a report. *They did* commission one.

    But the report that finally came out was *not* what they’d commissioned, it was what Reagan commissioned…

    Why is the word “commission” limited to who first allocated funds for something? When used in the specifying work-for-hire sense, it usually has connotations that the customer has some idea of the product they want. If they commission a sculpture, they’d be surprised to get a painting or a rock band.

    So, I think there were at least 2 (A & D), but maybe 4 (A-D) commissions:

    3) COMMISSION A, June 1980 CONGERSS -> NAS for Report
    When someone commissions the National Academy for a report, they expect certain kinds of things by default, i.e., that there will be world-class review of science, that the pieces will be synthesized, disagreements resolved or at least highlighted, a summary that reflects the contents, and peer-reviewed. I.e., they expect the quality they’d generally gotten as the best available estimates.

    See page 21, about Ribicoff’s amendment, which *commissioned* the Academy to do some specific things, and one would assume at the normal quality level expected of NAS. Carter signed this June 1980.
    That’s Commission A.

    4) COMMISSION B, between June 1980 and October 1980, NAS ->Nierenberg
    page 22-.
    Nierenberg believed “CO2 was nothing to be particularly worried about” (p15), i.e., a different view from JASON and Charney reports.

    p 22-24 Nierenberg had been lobbying for a new, integrated assessment, not just the (normal) review, as per Perry (p.23), and had been lobbying for the job of running the new committee (p.24).

    “Academy records do not reveal how or why Nierenberg was chosen for the job…overall stature and his well-known conservative politics would have been viewed as assets.”

    Some people have been confused by this. Given that this report would include serious policy findings, would you bet that Carter was going to be reelected? Maybe, but see below. While polls were close for a while, I sure recall how unpopular Carter was. It’s a plus if someone might have influence with the more likely incoming administration, although I wouldn’t think it was the major factor.

    Hence, it seems like the *Academy* commissioned Nierenberg to do the job he’d lobbied for, i.e., a well-integrated assessment, but of the calibre of normal NAS reports. Call that Commission B. At that point (sometime between June and October), Nierenberg was picked, and would select the committee.

    Obviously Oreskes & co couldn’t find the details, so let me speculate. Nierenberg had deservedly-serious stature and really wanted to do it. Maybe no one else wanted to do it, or maybe there was fierce politicking for the job. [I've seen plenty of this.]

    But I’d be surprised if between June and October, Carter and his administration spent one second on this, or even had any real input. Carter was unpopular, and had a bruising primary with Ted Kennedy (August 1980 convention), and then a fierce fight with Reagan.
    (“Hey, we propose Nierenberg for this climate study.” “OK, sounds good.” is probably the limit.)

    Hence, Commission B was the*Academy* picking Nierenberg, who wanted the job.
    Not Carter, Not Reagan.

    5. COMMISSION C, no later than October 1980

    Nierenberg selected his committee and did so in such a way as to yield a particular end *policy* result. (see p.24-28 for details).

    “While the formal charge to the new committee was not formulated until June of the following year, a committee was already in place by October 1980, with Nierenberg as its chair.

    6. COMMISSION D, June 1981
    Formal charge to the committee. Of course, during early 1981, Nierenberg was on Reagan’s transition team, recommending people. (p.22).

    I’m not sure who made the formal charge, but certainly, by then, Reagan was in office, the Senate was Republican for the first time in many years, and Nierenberg had been *part* of the administration, and it was pretty clear what was wanted. (p.43-45).

    7. RESULT
    As described in ChickenLittle, the science sections were there, but they just didn’t matter. What mattered were the summary & synopsis, and the article describes how they were written.

    I would say, COMMISSION D was the result, and it was commissioned by Reagan (administration), because it in no way was the kind of study Ribicoff commissioned. COMMISSION A never happened.

    In addition, it was a NAS report that was peer-reviewed by the (very senior) Alvin Weinberg (p.59-63), and he *savaged* it. I’d love to see that scanned in and put on the net :-) The peer review was ignored. A clear REJECT on a NAS report … and it was ignored. Utterly shameful.

    8. EXPERIENCE, SUMMARIES-vs-DETAILS

    I mentioned I sometimes was troubleshooter for a later Bell labs President (and some other savvy senior managers). Why is that relevant?

    Inside Bell Labs, there were all sorts of formal and informal reviews of projects, proposed projects, or assessments, usually across divisions. So, for example, somebody might write a 200-page report about project status and possible redirection, and it would have an executive summary, and a bunch of individual sections. (Sound familiar?)

    This would come across to our Executive Director (manages ~500-800 people, so busy), and then to my Director (150 people, also busy), who’d take a quick look, smell something funny, and then it might come to me (a mere supervisor) with an order “look hard at this”. Some reports would make coherent sense, and the executive summary would integrate the pieces, and I might recommend “Fund”.

    But some would have a nice rosy executive summary, looking for funding … but if one studied the details, one would find that the summarizer had simply glossed over serious problems buried in the details. There were some real doozies. I remember one where the summary confidently predicted a major product on a certain date. One software head thought that was barely possible, but only if he were allowed to steal most of the diagnostics programmers from other projects. Another thought the schedule was chancey because it claimed to have 300 people working on one thing, and he’d never seen more than 200 at once. And then, the hardware head complained that he hadn’t even gotten requirements yet. Thumbs down.

    Of course, occasionally people were able to defy this kind of review, or avoid it, or something, usually with catastrophic results. Big egos, really sure of themselves, disaster.

    Savvy top managers (this was Bell Labs) were pretty good at looking quickly at huge report, and smelling trouble, even if they weren’t exactly sure why.

    Of course, it is a common trick in many organizations to write a summary that you expect policy-makers to read, and as CYA, bury all the details so that one can always say “See, I said that.” This can be especially deadly in intelligence applications where one is indeed giving assessments of complex circumstances with partial information. (I used to deal with NSA, CIA, DSD, GCHQ, so I heard stories).

    Later on, I did similar reviews in other companies, and of course, when one does due diligence for venture capitalists, one is specifically paid to dig around for uncomfortable details.

    NAS reports are usually the first kind above, well-integrated work done by top people, with summaries that match the contents. The Nierenberg report was clearly the second kind. Just reread Alvin Weinberg… Anyone experienced in this can recognize games…

    So, IMHO, all this babble about the *science* in this report is simply irrelevant. The science was window dressing, because the bottom line was guaranteed to be “Do nothing”, exactly as Nierenberg and Reagan wished.

    Surely people here read enough NAS reports to know what they look like, and that they’re normally signed off by the committee.

    Do people not recognize a process hijack? Have people never seen one of those before?

    8. CONCLUSION

    It makes no sense to try to obfuscate Nierenberg’s relationship with the Reagan administration, and after all, in 1984, Nierenberg went on to cofound the George C. Marshall Institute… and I’m sure people here are familiar with it … but if not, I’m sure we’ll see some dandy papers on it.

    Remember, Niereneberg’s (& Schelling’s) solution for any global warming was for people to migrate. It will be interesting to see who welcomes those from Mexico and the US Southwest if the expected droughts happen.

    Likewise, watching videos of Texas, I noticed people using lots of cars to get away. The US is rich, so we can do this better than Bangladesh. I do wonder how well that will work when we’re far down the slope after Peak Oil, even if sea level stays where it is.

    I think we can do a lot to electrify transportation for normal use, but if living on a coast in hurricane country means the need for a lot of cars to be able to travel long distances, it’s not going to be so easy, just based on energy densities.

    I think Texas-North Carolina coasts are going to look very different by 2100. “Let them migrate.”

  47. #47 Nicolas Nierenberg
    2008/09/13

    Dr. Mashey,

    I’m sorry but I have been very polite up until now. I am not going to respond point by point, but you have just written a huge post based on essentially your own speculation. It is not backed up by the facts. For those interested in a different viewpoint a rebuttal to Oreskes et al we have posted it at wwww.nicolasnierenberg.com. The direct link is http://www.weebly.com/uploads/1/1/6/6/1166378/oreskes_2008_critique.pdf

  48. #48 Andy
    2008/09/15

    Christ, these nutty warmers will stoop to any level to get their funny views accross. It seems quite clear from the critique above that Oreskes has a peculiar notion of research and academic standards.

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