Climate Change and the Search for Truth

(Recently on a progressive e-list I’m on a person pointed to the work done by Science and Public Policy Institute and suggested that we “learn the truth” about climate change. The following is my response to him)

When someone claims to hold the truth to a question I tend to want to believe them.  In my own life I want truth more than anything,  so I my nature is to want to believe what people say.  In third grade Ricky Crawford told me that his father worked for NASA and that his father had told him secretly that aliens from Pluto were attacking and would be here in three days. For three days I cried a lot, hid a lot, and waited for news to break that the aliens were attacking. When I realized that I’d been tricked,  I trusted other people a lot less.

I’ve found consistently through my life that though I want to believe what people say,  I have to dig down and see if there is a more sinister or politically motivated reason underneath. Many people (Christian creationists, for example) start with a belief and amass data to support their belief while dismissing anything that doesn’t support their beliefs.

The Science and Public Policy Institute sounds as credible in the same way that President Bush’s Clear Skies Initiative. But according to SourceWatch wiki:

“The Science and Public Policy Institute (SPPI) is a global warming skeptics group which appears to primarily be the work of Robert Ferguson, its President”

“Prior to founding SPPI in approximately mid-2007, Ferguson was the Executive Director of the Center for Science and Public Policy (CSPP), a project of the corporate-funded group, the Frontiers of Freedom Institute.”

The Frontiers of Freedom Institute:

“Since our founding, Frontiers has grown from a start-up organization with big ideas to a preeminent think tank that is making a real and tangible difference advancing common sense ideas for government. One of our greatest sources of pride has been our position on the front lines in the battle to make a national missile defense system a reality. Our efforts earned us a seat across the table, literally, from President Bush on the day he announced our withdrawal from the ABM Treaty. In addition, we have both provided and received briefings from Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and his Deputy Paul Dundes Wolfowitz. We are proud to be considered an asset to the national security community during these times of serious global insecurity.”

FoF groups its work under the banner of six “policy centers”:

* Center for Constitutional Government
* Center for Economic Liberty and Property Rights
* Center for National Security and Defense
* Center for Free Market Environmentalism and Conservation
* Center for Civic, Family, and Societal Progress
* Center for Science and Public Policy

and receive funding by:

Philip Morris Cos, ExxonMobil and RJ Reynolds Tobacco.

Even if you look past the the dubious past of the founder, the “science” relies heavily on the work of Christopher Monckton who:

“is the third Viscount Monckton of Brenchley and a former policy advisor to Margaret Thatcher during her years as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.”

who is a media darling of the right wing.

A post about one of his published works at the Guardian makes the point better than I can:

“Published in two parts on consecutive Sundays, it runs to a total of 52 pages, containing graphs, tables and references. To my correspondents, to a good many journalists and to thousands of delighted bloggers, this paper clinches it: climate change is a hoax perpetrated by a leftwing conspiracy coordinated by the United Nations.

So which was the august journal that published it? Science? Nature? Geophysical Research Letters? Not quite. It was the Sunday Telegraph. In keeping with most of the articles about climate change in that publication, it is a mixture of cherry-picking, downright misrepresentation and pseudo-scientific gibberish. But it has the virtue of being incomprehensible to anyone who is not an atmospheric physicist.

The author of this “research article” is Christopher Monckton, otherwise known as Viscount Monckton of Brenchley. He has a degree in classics and a diploma in journalism and, as far as I can tell, no further qualifications. But he is confident enough to maintain that – by contrast to all those charlatans and amateurs who wrote the reports produced by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – he is publishing ‘the truth’ “


“A scientific paper is one published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. This means it has been subject to scrutiny by other experts in the field. This doesn’t suggest that it’s the last word on the subject, but it does mean it is worth discussing. For newspapers such as the Sunday Telegraph the test seems to be much simpler. If they don’t understand it, it must be science.”

I’m always dubious of anyone that claims to have “the truth”. IMO, the truth is something to be eternally searched for but never found in total. At the very core of any honest search for truth is a commitment to follow the facts wherever they lead,  even if it’s to a place you don’t think it should or would.

Or we could listen to the Ricky Crawfords of the world…..

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