Nierenberg: the wiki soap

I’ve been down the pub so no chance for any sensible or sober posts. Roll on wikipedia.

So we come to [[William Nierenberg]] and its revision history. Alas, this is an example of wikipedia at its worst: a process-obsessed zealot more interested in policy than reality (thats the other side, not me, before you start wondering).

I say “re-rv twaddle. Reagan simply didn’t commission a report. Do you have a clue about this?” [1]. Alas the Dark Side’s answer is the cr*ppy Times article[2] that Oreskes should be ashamed of, and “rv – Do you have a clue about Wikipedia policy? [WP:VERIFY]. If you cannot verify your claim then it doesn’t belong . My edit has reliable source, yours doesn’t. Find the source then make the edit” [3]. Oh well, I imagine we’ll kiss and make up at some point, though I’m doing my best to make that difficult [4].

What do you do on a friday night?


  1. #1 Nicolas Nierenberg

    Are you working on correcting the entry, or do I need to get involved? It would be much better stated that “an article written by Oreskes claimed.” Our rebuttal could also be cited. (Certainly ok if they are going to cite the popular story in the times.)

    [I can do my best. You should not edit that page directly (conflict of interest) but you can comment on the talk page. Befare arcane wiki rules… -W]

  2. #2 Dave Rado

    Hi William

    I’m not sure what basis (other than an assertion without evidence in The Times’ article) they have for stating in the Wiki article that “the key Nierenberg’s synthesis chapter went against the scientific consensus” – at the very least the sentence should surely be prefaced with “In the opinion of the historian Oreskes”?

    Also it looks wrong grammatically to me (the key synthesis chapter in the Nierenberg report would read better).


  3. #3 Atmoz

    Why not just reference the actual report? I doubt anyone will actually track it down and try to verify what it really says.

    [Nice idea, and I’ll give it a go, but it probably won’t wash. Wiki doesn’t tend to like primary sources. For a statement like “it agrees with earlier reports” you can’t really use the report itself, unless it actually says so… hmmm… interesting idea. Quoting the report might do, though -W]

  4. #4 Eli Rabett

    Conspicuously lacking is a reference to the NAS bio sketch of Wm Nierenberg by Lindzen, Munck Kennel

    [I’ve added it to the ext ref section -W]

  5. #5 Hank Roberts

    Thank you for this sanity check:

    “Oreskes specifically states in her paper that “Academy records do not reveal how or why Nierenberg was chosen for the job.” The times article is pap.”

    quote from:

  6. #6 Bob North

    William – I am not sure that even this statement ” However, the synthesis chapter, written by Nierenberg, rejected the conclusion that CO2 rises were a problem.[1]” is supported by a reading of either executive summary or the synthesis chapter.

    There are several instances where the report concluded that CO2 increases could be a problem and would result in impacts, even if they were downplayed more than Oreskes may have liked. Whatever her motivations or reasons, it seems that her paper plays it is somewhat fast and loose with the conclusions of the report in question.

    [I think the statement you quote is nothing but Oreskes opinion. You could pick lots of things out of the synthesis chapter. You could do the same with the IPCC ar1. N does say something like “cause for concern, not panic”. Which I would take to be eminently reasonable -W]

  7. #7 Nicolas Nierenberg

    I agree with Mr. North obviously on the specific point. At most a correct statement would be that Oreskes et al produced a paper saying that, and that is disputed by a paper written by Nierenberg, Tschinkel, and Tschinkel.

    Also obviously the Marshall institute is correct, but the “openly hostile” statement would require some type of reference. I don’t think any of his public statements would fit that characterization. Not supporting Kyoto certainly doesn’t rise to that level, as the entire US Senate was also opposed.

  8. #8 Nicolas Nierenberg

    And I almost forgot. Thank you for the post Mr. Rabett, I really like that bio, and I appreciate the help.

  9. #9 Dave Rado

    Re. the BBC series (which covered the N report in similar terms to the Times article), I’ve just posted this in another thread.


  10. #10 Eli Rabett

    Bob, I would try the 1989/92 Marshall reports for openly hostile

  11. #11 Nicolas Nierenberg

    Mr Rabett,

    Do you have a copy of the Marshall report? I think you mentioned that you can get one for $.41 on Amazon.

    I want to make it clear that this is not a broad based defense of the report, just a comment on the term “openly hostile.”

    This is a quote from the first chapter third paragraph.

    “Several Scientific groups have concluded that manmade emissios of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are the cause of much or all of the rise in global temperatures that has been observed since the turn of the century. They predict that if the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases continues to increase as a result of the burning of fossil fuels and other human activities the average temperature of the earth may rise in the 21st century by 1.5-4.5C or as much as 8F. The high end of this estimate may cause widespread drought in many agricultural areas and have a destructive impact on human life in many parts of the world.

    “Not all experts in the field of climate studies agree with these conclusions. However, many scientists consider the man-made greenhouse concern that must be addressed.”

    The chapter concludes with.

    “Critically important policy decisions affecting the five-trillion-dollar US economy depend on the reliability of the predictions generated by the greenhouse forecasting groups. Their computing facilities are underpowered for the importance of the work being done. One hundred million dollars would purchase top-line supercomputer complexes for the four major scientific groups working intensively on the greenhouse problem. The expenditure would be a solid investment in the future of the economy.”

    While they certainly focus on uncertainty and recommend more research before action I think “hostile” is far too strong a word.

  12. #12 Bob North

    William – thank you for your reply and I think I agree. I guess my point was that maybe the statement that the synthesis report rejected the conclusion that CO2 rises are a problem shouldn’t be in the Wiki article or should be somehow qualified. You seem to know what you are doing in terms of editing wiki.

    Eli – I am not sure why you directed your comment to me since I haven’t mentioned anything about hostility nor would ascribe that as a motive to either Neirenberg or Oreskes. Really I am just trying to look at the issue surrounding the 1983 report and not the positions Dr. Neirenberger may have taken subsequently.


  13. #13 Dave Rado

    Re. the “openly hostile” sentence, I think something like “lobbied strongly against any government action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sought to play up the scientific uncertainties” would be better.

    Re. the “Rejected the conclusion that CO2 rises are a problem” sentence I would suggest something like “argued strongly that CO2 rises required no short term government action”.


  14. #14 Nicolas Nierenberg

    Mr. Rado,

    Just to make it more neutral language I would say “emphasized the scientific uncertainties.”

    On the second point they did urge government action just not an immediate move away from fossil fuel use. So “argued that CO2 rises required no short term movement away from fossil fuels.” I believe that this is completely in line with the statements in the executive summary and the synthesis.

  15. #15 Hank Roberts

    > “emphasized the scientific uncertainties.”

    Too close to “teach the controversy” I’d say.
    The uncertainty was stated as a range

    “the average temperature of the earth may rise in the 21st century by 1.5-4.5C or as much as 8F.”

    And, again my opinion, I’d say that the following sentence minimizes — rather than emphasizes — the scientific uncertainty:

    “The high end of this estimate may cause widespread drought in many agricultural areas and have a destructive impact ….”

    Even the low end of that estimate was cause for concern and reason to constrain fossil fuel use. That’s the missed opportunity of all three of these reports, of which we’re only focusing on the third one. Remember this weighted against the earlier two reports that were publicly known.

  16. #16 Nicolas Nierenberg

    Mr. Roberts,

    I’m probably just being really dense, but I didn’t understand your post. Specifying a range is found in every discussion of climate sensitivity to CO2. Minimizing the scientific uncertainty is the opposite of what people feel the problem with the report was.

    And what three reports are you referring to? JASON, “Changing Climate” (NAS), and the Marshall Report?

    I’m not arguing, just trying to understand.

  17. #17 Eli Rabett

    The point about uncertainty is that the risks are strongly asymmetric so you can’t simply say on the one hand, on the other hand but you have to weight the probability by the risk. To get an idea of this you can look at a couple of graphical presentations from global warming, one from WGII of the AR4, the other from the Stern report. Please note how similar they are and how, once you get past about 2 C how bad it gets and past 3 C how it becomes difficult to maintain our civilization. In other words, BAU has a 50% risk of producing a world wide dark age. Worry.

  18. #18 Nicolas Nierenberg

    Mr. Rabett,

    I agree that the consequences of a 2-3C rise could be very serious.

    Just to return to the topic for a second, I still feel that the phrase “openly hostile” should be changed.

  19. #19 Hank Roberts

    Eli’s made the point about uncertainty that I was trying for, I think. Even the low end of the range isn’t good news.

    You asked:
    > What three reports?

    I wrote:
    >> three of these reports, of which we’re
    >> only focusing on the third one.

    This one (with Dr. N’s name on it — the third) is what we’re preoccupied by.

    The “two previous reports for the Carter administration” [Quote from Wikipedia] should be considered along with this third one. I’d like to see them side by side and figure out who added what when.

    [Please dont quote from wiki for that article! It leans heavily on Oreskes. Unfortunately its suffering from the regrettable wiki “verifiability not truth” problem. See the talk page -W]

    Jason report was still a secret then, as far as I know; Marshall report came after the Marshall Inst. was founded, years later.

  20. #20 James Annan

    past 3 C how it becomes difficult to maintain our civilization. In other words, BAU has a 50% risk of producing a world wide dark age. Worry.


    That is way out of line with every reputable assessment every published. No, scratch that – it is way out of line with every assessment ever published, reputable or not (prove me wrong by citing one please). Eg Stern (hardly a denialist himself) suggests an impact of something like 5% of GDP compared to a no climate change scenario, which means a world that is 9.5 times as rich as today rather than 10 times as rich. Of course there is always room to quibble on some of the details but on what basis do you claim that he is wrong, not merely by a significant margin or even an order of magnitude, but by several orders of magnitude?

  21. #21 Eli Rabett

    James, take a look at the figures I pointed to. You start wiping out our ecosystem’s underlying species and all die. Why do you think Dano and Jeff Harvey’s hair is on fire? Now you can do a Nierenberg and wish this away but the risk is there, it is far from zero and even if you live in Soylent Green (and from your descriptions. . .)it is connected to the risks to food supplies.

  22. #22 Nicolas Nierenberg

    Mr. Roberts,

    I just want to clear up all the reports once and for all.

    The JASON report was actually MacDonald et al. (Nierenberg was a co-author). There was Charney et al. And then there was the report of the Carbon Dioxide Assesment Committee (CDAC) under the NAS, William Nierenberg chairman, which was requested by Congress under Jimmy Carter, and published during the Reagan Administration in 1983.

    Much later there was a report from the Marshall Institute, I think it was 1989. Nierenberg was a co-author. This was a non-peer reviewed report from a private foundation.

  23. #23 Hank Roberts

    Ok, and thanks for the corrections, appreciated.

    So look at MacDonald et al., Charnet et al., CDIAC. Then look at the ocean pH scenarios (physical chemistry being more predictable than atmospheric physics, and plankton’s responses to pH change being studied only recently).

    That’s where the risk of BAU we call “3 degrees” comes in I think — the effects of the CO2 level, even ignoring the increase in temperature associated with it.

    Very few regions of the world are self-sufficient right now, most all of them rely on transportation of something from some distance away. That’s Catton’s warning from _Overshoot_; that eventually that transport breaks down.

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