Climate Lies

From RP Jr and Nurture. Well, not quite direct lies, more in the nature of deliberately-misleading by omission. But I have a work colleague who habitually accuses me of spreading climate lies (hello Hugo!) so it only seems fair to use the phrase myself. [From the Nature article,] It isn't quite possible to tell who is at fault: the quote from the review in Nurture is:

In The Climate Fix, Pielke argues... Fright sells, he points out, citing the late Stephen Schneider, the environmental scientist and political adviser who once wrote that, to rouse public support, "we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have". Schneider later stepped back from that piquant assertion, yet the approach remains widely used. [1]

Daniel Greenberg is the author of the Nurture review but it looks as though he is pretty well quoting RP [Update: RP in comment 2 denies truncating the quote, and provides the evidence on his blog. So it looks like DG is the guilty party]. There is a long-standing tradition of abusing this quote from Schneider: which means that neither RP Jr nor DG can have done it accidentally, which makes the abuse all the more surprising. If you don't know the context, the quote continues:

This 'double ethical bind' we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both

You can find Schneider complaining about being misrepresented in this way by Julian Simon all the way back in 1996 in the APS newsletter..

[The Nurture article is paywalled; there is a sneak preview copy here]

Incidentally, one might wonder who DG is. He seems to be DSG, and is a Marshall Insititute expert, which is something of a black mark. But then again this seems OK OK in parts.

[Update: as is probably clear from the strikes above, when I originally wrote this it wasn't clear who was truncating Schneider. RP has now provided enough context that it is clear that DG is the one at fault]

More like this

Don't try to make excuses for liars by calling them activists and claiming their behavior is just differently ethical. Don't excuse them when you agree with their goals any more than you'd excuse them when you catch them lying to further a goal you despise.……

"... deeper down, this is the last big effort by the fossil fuel industry to delay action on climate change, just as the tobacco industry successfully delayed understanding of the harmful effects of smoking for several decades, says Schneider.

âWeâre up against the multi-billion-dollar fossil fuel industry and the haters of government. They spin and spin and cast doubt on the credibility of science,â he said.

The media are an accomplice in this, he said, because they have failed to put wild claims into context and continue to interview people like Inhofe and others who have no evidence or credibility on these issues.

âIâm pretty damn angry that media companies are putting profits ahead of truth. The media are deeply broken⦠Thatâs a real threat to democracy,â Schneider said.

There is no solid scientific dispute over the simple physics ....

I like RP Jr's idea about the 'honest broker'. I hope he lets us know when he finds one.


You should do your homework before calling someone a liar.

My discussion of Schneider's oft-cited quote includes the full context of his quote, as well as a quote from his response to its mischaracterization in the APS newsletter.

Perhaps you'll see fit to correct your, ahem, lie?

[That was quick. As I said: I can't tell who was resonsible for the truncation of that quote. If you'd be kind enough to send me enough context from the original to judge, I'll be happy to correct myself. Meanwhile, I'll put a note in pointing to this comment -W]

By Roger Pielke, Jr. (not verified) on 30 Sep 2010 #permalink

We'd all like to be effective. The question is, does one want to be effective as a scientist, in which case honesty "works," or effective in politics, in which case stoking irrational fear "works?" Scientists aren't expected to be apolitical, except in their science. Trying to "justify" dishonesty in matters scientific, as Schneider did, just doesn't wash.

By bob koepp (not verified) on 30 Sep 2010 #permalink


Th full context of my discussion of Schneinder's quote can be found here:…

[Yes, I agree you provided the full quote. So it looks like it is DG who is lying. Ah well, never trust a Marshall "expert" I suppose. My original intent was to say that one of you or DG was lying, but I see it can be misread to suggest that you both were. So I've corrected that -W]

By Roger Pielke, Jr. (not verified) on 30 Sep 2010 #permalink

"This 'double ethical bind' we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both"

If it is possible to be effective and honest, where is the ethical bind? Is it surprising, when Schneider says there is an ethical bind, that people think he's hinting people should be economical with the truth?

It seems clear to me he is saying people should go as far as they are comfortable with in exaggerating the argument.

Perhaps you could READ THE BOOK before any further accusing of the author of misleading by omission, and then immediately qualifying the accusation.
I hardly think we can expect an objective review after this unprepossessing start.
Or am I just being picky?

By Jack Savage (not verified) on 30 Sep 2010 #permalink

People still care what Pielke has to say about, well, anything? :)

Oh.. and perhaps you might consider amending your heading of "Climate Lies" and tag of "Climate Tripe" and offering some sort of an apology until you have READ THE BOOK.
Or are good manners completely out of the window these days?

[Err, why should I change the heading? DG is the one guilty of lies; I've made it clear that Pielke isn't. Do you think there is room for misinterpretation now? And no, I don't need to read the (whole) book; the exerpt RP has provided is quite enough -W]

By Jack Savage (not verified) on 30 Sep 2010 #permalink

The gall of this dude. First he spreads one more lie about Pielke, adding to the meme that Pielke is one liar of a guy, a meme that is so pervasive as it is ... ahem... a lie itself. Just see Rocco's inane comment over here to see the disease.

Then, he is immediately corrected. Does he apologize? No. He just states that he was "right" all along, because he couldn't tell from whom the "lie" originated. Thus, if Pielke never came here to defend himself, this F... lie would have spread. Why? Because mr Connolley is one dude without manners, that's why.

By Luis Dias (not verified) on 30 Sep 2010 #permalink

I've never understood why some people, when they've clearly both made a mistake and denigrated another person, can't find the cojones to say "I'm sorry". Perhaps because in some cases, they would spend their entire lives apologizing?

It is exceedingly irresponsible to accuse someone of lying based on a third-party representation. It would have been one thing to quote the review, and point out the misuse of the Schneider quote without attributing it to Pielke. It is quite another to fire off the accusation based without doing any due diligence to see if the inflammatory charge of dishonesty is justified.

Correcting the post after the fact, without offering an apology for the misbehavior, is hardly sufficient. You engaged in irresponsible behavior and should own up to it directly and forthrightly.


I'm sure Dr. Pielke was just as quick to point out someone was lying. Can you point us to where he red-flags the truncated quote and tells people DG had mangled the text?

If he'd been just a smidgen faster, William would have found Dr. P's red alert and been able to post a "Hear, Hear!"

Where is Dr. P's note on pointing out DG screwed it up?

Hank -
Suppose you actually had a point about RPJr's not taking DG to task. Let's say he should have done so. Would that in any way mitigate WC's providing an illustration with his own behavior of something he was criticizing? According to which theory of ethics do two wrongs make a right? Oh yeah, Schneider's theory of ethics which, as JN7 has succinctly shown, is a pseudo-theory.

By bob koepp (not verified) on 30 Sep 2010 #permalink

Well, depends. I asked because I didn't know.

Did William miss finding a timely public correction of DG's distortion by Dr. P.? If so, slipsies, and he's correcting the first post.

(William, it still needs work; where you have

neither RP Jr nor DG can have done it accidentally

it should now read something like
"DG cannot have done it accidentally since DG was given the full quote" -- if that's right.

This shouldn't require deep digging into blogs. It's a blatant screwup and not even a novel one, it's got such a long history of being misused that ordinary readers should recognize it.

It's awesome that nobody at Nature noticed, innit?

If I were in Dr. P's position I would have red-flagged the quote as one frequently truncated to spin it and much documented. Perhaps Dr. P did warn DG about it, and DG did it anyhow?

Still, one of Nature's selling points is they have editors. Or claim to.

Ya know, I'd bet DG didn't actually distort that himself after copying it out of Dr. P's book -- more likely he took the bit from a secondary source instead of from the book's actual paper page.

Did he have a searchable text copy?

I'd be DG cited the quote to Dr. P's book but relied on some second-hand copy -- not that sloppy copying of second hand material and citing as though the original had been read is acceptable.

DG or Nature's editors ought to fix their process for checking work.

Gotta love the concern trolling ...

Maybe if RP Jr's reputation didn't need such vehement protecting, we'd see a bit less concern trolling on the part of his admirers?

Oh, and from Wikipedia;
"it is believed that the use of scaled-down, low-resolution images of posters to provide critical commentary on the film, event, etc. in question or of the poster itself, not solely for illustration .... qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law."


" ummm....... I see, so "WC's providing an illustration with his own behavior of something he was criticizing" is a "slipsy." That might be OK if WC was a 4-year old. Among adults it's usually called hypocrisy.

Posted by: bob koepp | September 30, 2010 2:04 PM

Love it bob - any thing but "dull" eh! WC

[Yup, I think I've committed 3 outrages in as many days. Can I make it 4? -W]

Those opposed to action on emissions reductions are quite familiar with Fear as a tactic to influence people. It's this crowd who asserts that substantially reducing emissions will "destroy the economy" or something to that effect, despite not being supported by any objective economic analysis.

Pielke Jr. actually takes this a step further. In his failed political efforts to halt the increase in the Colorado renewable energy standard, he doesn't merely argue that it's possible, but doing so would destroy the economy, as your usual "free market" think tanks do. He asserts that it's simply not possible to do. One might argue that both positions are the same, as asserting it's impossible tends to imply great economic calamity if they try.

I'm not sure why I bother...

By David B. Benson (not verified) on 30 Sep 2010 #permalink

"Yup, I think I've committed 3 outrages in as many days."

Were you seriously under quota for comments in September?

WMC - my apologies for referring to you in a way that you find distasteful. As a yank I probably don't have quite the same sense of bathroom humor as you.

Eli - By all means, unmangle the quote from Schneider. Then explain how the full quote shows he did not advocate exaggerating scientific claims for political purposes. And before tangling yourself in logical knots, reflect on JN7's comment (#5 above).

By bob koepp (not verified) on 01 Oct 2010 #permalink

Several posters have requested that you do a bit of exegesis and explain how the follow-up quote exonerates Schneider. It obviously doesn't despite your high dudgeon. "It is up to each of us..." sounds so high minded and fair on superficial reading, but attending to the words reveals that it is even worse than the preceding quote.

[I think you're doing your best, perhaps unwittingly, to push for dishonesty, and to avoid openess. Schneider was doing his best to be both honest and open, in a highly charged envirnoment. The meaning of Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both is entirely clear - if you don't understand it then I can't help you. If you want everyone to choose only words that are acceptable even when deliberately taken out of context, and we all have to consult lawyers before speaking - then carry on as you are now. But I strongly disagree with you, and I hope you someday realise how despicable the position you are advocating is -W]

Our esteemed host believes that one can't help a fool to see the light. And most assuredly, only a fool would think that balancing honesty and effectiveness means tolerating some degree of dishonesty. And to say so is not only foolish, but despicable. I am honored to be so despised.

By bob koepp (not verified) on 01 Oct 2010 #permalink

Erm, 'bob koepp' just made an 'own goal' there, didn't he?

Schneider tolerated fools gladly enough and always hoped to teach them something. You might infer he thought people who tolerate some dishonesty are fools, but he doesn't explicitly say that. He tries to educate.

Schneider said that finding the "right balance ... between being effective and being honest.... means being both."

This isn't a teeter-totter, on-the-other-hand, take a little from each but not all kind of choice he's suggesting.

He says -- the right balance is being both.

It's a recipe: use all of both ingredients to get the right result.

It's amazing how newbies come across this old lie and pick it up as though they'd invented it and go haring 'round the world plastering it everywhere as news.

Truth laces its boots.

Schneider's quite clear and has been for

. And most assuredly, only a fool would think that balancing honesty and effectiveness means tolerating some degree of dishonesty.

Yeah, that's pretty much an own goal, Hank.

Our esteemed host believes that one can't help a fool to see the light.

This would be bob koepp's big chance to prove to our host that he's unreasonably cynical ... but that ain't going to happen, is it, bob? You're going to continue to do your best to prove that this POV is correct, aren't you, bob?

OT: Re the cats business, I'm tempted to start calling you Wm., but I probably won't. :)

[Careful. Actually Wm. would be OK -W]

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 01 Oct 2010 #permalink

Both Hank Roberts and dhogaza missed the sarcasm in my remark about only a fool thinking that balancing honesty and effectiveness means tolerating some degree of dishonesty. That's understandable. The point, though, is that it would be foolish to deny this. (As for what Hank suggests I might infer, well, sarcasm aside, I recommend he revisit my statment with a grammar text in hand.)

Here again is the bit from Schneider that some are interpreting as exonerating:
"This âdouble ethical bindâ we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both."

Note first (Hank) that Schneider said he _hoped_ the balance means being both. He did not say that it means being both, simpliciter. So, in what circumstances _could_ it be both? In what circumstanced could Schneider's hope be realized?

Not in the frequently encountered circumstances described, where it is a "given" that competing values put us in a "double ethical bind." Acheiving a balance in such circumstances implies (as strictly as you like) that neither value will be fully realized. Some effectiveness will be sacrificed in the name of honesty, and some honesty will be sacrificed in the name of effectiveness. (Equivalently, we will tolerate some degree of dishonesty and some degree of ineffectiveness.) So Schneider's hope that we can be both (unqualifiedly) honest and effective is futile except when honesty and effeciveness don't conflict -- in which case there is no balancing to be done. In short, the plain meaning of his statement is that each of us has to decide how much dishonesty we will tolerate in order to be effective.

I invite anybody to show me precisely where I err in the above remarks. Alternatively, I invite anybody to articulate a suitable replacement for 'honesty' among the traditional scientific virtues.

[My sense is that we've all said all we have to say about this. Unless you have something *new* to say, please don't respond -W]

By bob koepp (not verified) on 01 Oct 2010 #permalink

Please excuse me for poking at bob k. He has obviously never tried to teach anyone a complex subject. Dr. Schneider's quote seems perfectly obvious and reasonable to someone who has tried to teach basic physics to non-science majors. When I tell them "F=ma" I hope I am being effective (ie they remember this for the test) but I am not *really* being honest. Of course everyone knows that this equation only applies to Newtonian physics. So should I try to be absolutely "honest" and explain every detail about the relationship between force, mass and acceleration, taking into account all possible reference frames etc? Of course not. This is the kind of dilemma that Dr. Schneider is worried about. "Lying" is not even part of the equation. People who worry about that are the kind of people who would do that.

Gator -
You could be honest enough to tell your students that what you are presenting to them is an idealization which is only approximated in the real world. No need to teach them relativistic dynamics in the course of introducing them to Newtonian dynamics. And this is most definitely not the "kind of dilemma" Schneider described.

[Well, you get away with that because i didn't quite have the heart to delete two comments. But (to everyone else) next time I will -W]

By bob koepp (not verified) on 01 Oct 2010 #permalink

Schneider's double ethical blind arises when scientist becomes activist. The scientist must adhere to an open honesty about risk, urgency, and certainty. The activist is allowed a different ethical standard.

By Paul Kelly (not verified) on 01 Oct 2010 #permalink

> activist is allowed ...
No way in hell "allowed"

That claim that scientists lose credibility by addressing policy is usually followed by the claim that something -- anything but science -- is a good guide to policy. The market, the state, the church, the voters, the best PR money can buy, the law, but definitely not the science.

Public health refutes the claim.

Think how few scientists there have been, ever, out of all the people who have lived. Most people haven't a clue what's new and different about science.

Try Brin on the culture war -- he does it a lot better than Mooney or the 'framing' guy. He started way back with

"... With whom should you ally yourself? Someone who shares your immediate political campaign, while disagreeing with you utterly over long-term goals? Or someone who shares your deep agenda for a better world, but disagrees over immediate tactics?

".... how can we work together when we disagree over the very nature of the universe and of the future? Or over the very possibility -- the desirability -- of human improvability?

"Suppose you perceive -- through evidence and scientific consensus ...."

Suppose you do.

HOw can a tragedy be a farce?

By David B. Benson (not verified) on 01 Oct 2010 #permalink


You're overreacting. Schneider recognized that the scientist and the activist are bound by different ethical standards that may be in conflict or at cross purposes. He was seeking the proper balance between them.

By Paul Kelly (not verified) on 01 Oct 2010 #permalink

"or in this case rebunking"
This, to me, coins a new word. Rebunking, a combination of repeated and debunking meaning repeatably debunked. Very good.

By Paul Kelly (not verified) on 01 Oct 2010 #permalink

Paul Kelly says, "Schneider recognized that the scientist and the activist are bound by different ethical standards that may be in conflict or at cross purposes. He was seeking the proper balance between them."

I agree completely with this statement. My objections are not to Schneider's person -- from what I know of him, he was a wonderful person. Nor are my objections to his activism -- would that we all endeavored to make this a better world. What I object to is the notion that honesty needs to be balanced against effectiveness.

By bob koepp (not verified) on 02 Oct 2010 #permalink

My suspicion is that balance is the wrong word.

Schneider's big problem, and everyone else's problem, is the way scientists express their views. They're much more inclined to say "yes, but" or more data needed here or uncertainty there or more research required for just about everything. They tend to answer questions as though they were for a viva on a science paper rather than by an ordinary person asking is the sky blue.

When you or I say very likely in answer to a question, we're inclined to use a much lower standard than the scientific / statistical very likely. Just look at a smoker being diagnosed with lung cancer. Ordinary folk will say it's a certainty that the smoking caused the cancer. A scientist (and I'm not talking doctors here) would be inclined to say it's "very likely" that the smoking was a "major contributing cause" of the cancer.

And they're in a double bind. Only the brave and confident like Jim Hansen warning us about 2012 likely turning out a horror year will state things so clearly. And he'll be ground to a paste by his detractors for this if we have a big volcanic eruption next year which cools things down for a few months.

Not many have both the status and the boldness to say such a thing publicly and feel that their credibility among their peers would not suffer if something gets in the way of it coming to fruition.

bob koepp,

I don't know why you would object to someone seeking an ethical position. For Dr. Schneider, it seems more constraint than license.

By Paul Kelly (not verified) on 02 Oct 2010 #permalink

Adelady, please be careful with words like "horror" in that context. Hansen didn't use it.

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 02 Oct 2010 #permalink

Though it is noble of William to admit that Roger did indeed include the full quote in his book, the problem, as I see it (and as such allowing the latitude for DG, bob koepp, J. Adler et alias to perpetuate the false interpretation of the Schneider quote) is in Roger's following commentary, to wit:

For his part, Schneider emphasized that this double ethical bind should never be resolved by resorting to mis-characterizing uncertainties. In response to the frequent use of his quote to suggest a green light for alarmism, (a bit of ambiguous dog going on here. Does Roger believe that Schneider was not duly 'alarmed' by the threat of global warming? This statement seems to suggest this, and also imply that the quote has been frequently used, not by 'sceptics' to smear Schneider and the climate science community in general, but rather by 'alarmists' to justify unrealistic exaggeration) Schneider wrote, âNot only do I disapprove of the âends justify the meansâ philosophy of which I am accused, but, in fact have actively campaigned against it in myriad speeches and writings.â20 Indeed, the vast majority of climate scientists that I have had the pleasure to get to know and work with over the years shares Schneiderâs passion for accurately conveying climate science to the public and placing it into its policy context. However, not all of their colleagues share this passion, coloring views of all of the climate-science enterprise. [my emphasis]

Thus enters the straw man. Perhaps, since I have no desire to buy or read Roger's book as I find his persistent sophistry both baroque and tiresome (as opposed to honest and effective) I am mistaken and he follows up this apparent hand-wave with specific examples of 'colleagues' 'not ... sharing this passion' and some diligent exposition of exactly how these few have been 'coloring views of all [my emphasis] of the climate-science enterprise'.

Perhaps Roger can clarify?

By luminous beauty (not verified) on 02 Oct 2010 #permalink

Sorry, Steve. I read Hansen's quote and instantly related it to where I live.

I'm not too keen on breaking our recent heatwave record - and that looks like the direction he's talking about.

And **I** complain about people judging climate on where they live rather than the big picture! Oh well. Even I fall prey to universal failings at times.

Schneider (link above to transcript) refers to 25 percent of US citizens being unwilling to learn because their beliefs rule out, well, science:

----excerpt from Schneider transcript ----…

What the media needs to do is not to ignore outliersâwe should never ignore outliersâ[but] to frame where they sit in the spectrum of knowledgeable opinion. The good reporters always did that. They said, 'There are a small number of people, many of whom are funded by particular industries, who make the following point.' That's completely legit, because now the public knows where these guys sit.

But now, given the new media business-driven model, where they fired most specialists and the only people left in the newsroom are general-assignment reporters who have to do a grown-up's job, how are they going to be able to discern the north end of a southbound horse?

[Question: How do you respond to the perception that scientists are friends of the left and enemies of the right?]

Scientists get associated with the left not because they're really in the left. It's because they have a particular belief system that is more likely embraced by Democrats: people not on the far leftâbecause the far left is just as crazy radical in its deep belief as the far rightâbut middle-center left. [There is a] great American divide. The deep red states, the ones who want to teach creationism as if somehow belief was science, when science is method, are in what I call the faith-trust value system, where evidence that overthrows deep faith is somehow a real violation of their deep ethics. Those of us in science come from a completely different paradigmâmuch more likely in California, especially coastal California, and New York and the deep blue statesâwhich I call doubt-test, where no matter how cherished our beliefs, if you have enough evidence kicking you in the face to the contrary, you change your mind. That is blasphemy to certain groups....
---- end excerpt ----

This Village Voice article notes the 25 percent share a cluster of strongly held beliefs. Schneider refers to the "faith-trust value system" and describes this well.…

And a brief excerpt from that Village Voice article, for those who didn't get through it:

... the "grassroots" modern tea party effort has been largely funded by the Koch brothers, reactionaries whose combined oil wealth places them just behind Bill Gates and Warren Buffet as America's wealthiest men. The brothers have given some $100 million toward the Tea Party's astroturf call to arms.

"This right-wing, redneck stuff works for them," a former Koch associate told The New Yorker. "They see this as a way to get things done without getting dirty themselves."

Oil. Imagine that.

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 03 Oct 2010 #permalink

Surely rebunking is reiterating bunk, after it has been debunked?

By Nick Barnes (not verified) on 04 Oct 2010 #permalink

As opposed to derebunking, which is debunking something that has be rebunked. Not to be confused with redebunking which is debunking something again, that hasn't (yet) been rebunked.

... the "grassroots" modern tea party effort has been largely funded by the Koch brothers, reactionaries whose combined oil wealth places them just behind Bill Gates and Warren Buffet as America's wealthiest men. The brothers have given some $100 million toward the Tea Party's astroturf call to arms.

sure Hank

got a cite? Here's open secrets on Koch vs Soros funding

if you have a better non partisan source bring it…

sorry 3.1 does not equal 100

keep believing the Tea Party is astro turf, will check back November 2

By windansea (not verified) on 04 Oct 2010 #permalink

Most of you who followed the link to read that Schneider interview noticed the physics error on the Stanford website. I asked, they verified, someone putting the text on ther website "corrected" it to be wrong. They'll put it back as he said it promptly.