The Wall Street Journal, Again

We’re happy to see a headline in the Wall Street Journal that matches our slogan, via the Hitchhiker’s Guide of course, with a hat tip for the idea to Scruffy Dan. “Don’t panic” we urge. “Things could get worse, and it’s best if we keep a level head.” That’s what we mean. So we should be gratified that today, the Wall Street Journal feature sixteen prominent people, who have cosigned an article entitled “No Need to Panic About Global Warming!”

Yes! Print coverage for P3! Woo-hoo!

No, no such luck. So what do these stars of the naysayer pantheon, Dick Lindzen, Claude Allegre, Nir Shaviv and the rest mean by “No Need to Panic”?

It turns out, if you read the article carefully, that it means next to nothing at all. It’s all spin meant to justify policy inaction.

Consider the opening advice to our future president: “Candidates should understand that the oft-repeated claim that nearly all scientists demand that something dramatic be done to stop global warming is not true.” I don’t know about “dramatic”, but it is the position of (ahem) this journal that it is incerasingly necessary to be decisive and serious. But this sentence, which is actually a suitable basis for argument, is immediately, in the very next sentence, spun into “In fact, a large and growing number of distinguished scientists and engineers do not agree that drastic actions on global warming are needed.” Now we’ve gone from “dramatic” to “drastic” and we still have a vague claim of “a large group” and a highly dubious one of “growing”.

This sort of vague and dissembling claim is beneath the dignity of any scientist. Yet we find no fewer than sixteen signatories, who have in their topic paragraph issued what amounts to a literal claim of nothing more than “it is excessive to be excessive” (certain) and “a growing number of scientists agree” (highly dubious if phrased like that – all scientists already agree to obvious tautologies, after all.

In the next paragraph, though, we hit paydirt. The article speaks approvingly of Ivan Ivar Glaever, who publicly resigned from the American Physical Society (APS) with a letter that begins: “I did not renew [my membership] because I cannot live with the [APS policy] statement: ‘The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring. If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth’s physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now.’ In the APS it is OK to discuss whether the mass of the proton changes over time and how a multi-universe behaves, but the evidence of global warming is incontrovertible?” I fail to see the contradiction here. The evidence allows what it allows and disallows what it disallows. I have no opinion about the evidence about the mutability of proton masses, but if someone credentialed and competent tells me it’s debatable, I’ll defer to them. But “global warming is occuring” is simply a well-supported measurement. The rest of the statement is couched in probabilistic terms, “likely to occur”. This is also strongly supported by multiple streams of evidence, but is not claimed as incontrovertible.

Looking further down the page, we probably shouldn’t even dignify the endless abusive misconstrual of Kevin Trenberth’s “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t.” That one is left as an exercise for the reader. Go Google it.

And so on, recycling the tired and empty memes of the bunkosphere. Even Michelle Bachmann get’s an implicit shout-out in a short sentence suitable for her, ahem, argumentative style: “The fact is that CO2 is not a pollutant. CO2 is a colorless and odorless gas, exhaled at high concentrations by each of us, and a key component of the biosphere’s life cycle.”

The height of hubris, though, comes in the claim that we are Lysenkoists.

This is not the way science is supposed to work, but we have seen it before—for example, in the frightening period when Trofim Lysenko hijacked biology in the Soviet Union. Soviet biologists who revealed that they believed in genes, which Lysenko maintained were a bourgeois fiction, were fired from their jobs. Many were sent to the gulag and some were condemned to death.

OK. I find myself sorry I used up my lifetime supply of public F-words on Steve Mosher. Go climb a tree, jerks. You want Lysenkoism, how about this episode from the Bush Administration. #%$#%^$#!!!

Then there are the signatories. A few of the affiliations are impressive, but I think you will find that most of those are associated with emeriti. And some are just completely irrelevant to climate. An engineer, a business-school type (who has long since made a fool of himself on this issue), an astronaut.

Planet3.0 does not intend to give the more absurd denialists more space than they deserve, but when they manage a piece in the Wall Street Journal, it’s worth sitting up and taking note of how far we have fallen.

As is common regarding this and other matters, the WSJ op-ed page gives space to arguments that are egregiously irresponsible. What is most striking about this piece is not its irresponsibility. We have come to expect that.

What is striking is how much viciousness and palpable malice are expressed, and how they are complemented with utter intellectual incoherence. The deniers are reduced to what amounts to essentially senile paranoid blithering, and the leading paper of the financial sector gives them the imprimatur of a featured slot for it.

This obviously doesn’t carry much weight for those informed in the matter who may read it carefully, but newspapers are largely designed for people’s cursory attention. The casual reader will see an impressive list of signatories and some extreme accusations. Of course, some of the casual readers of the Wall Street Journal tend to be influential.

There’s a lot of talk of how much damage a few notorious oil billionaires have been doing, but if history needs a villain-in-chief for this sorry episode in history, it is just as likely to be Rupert Murdoch.




  1. Oh, I am not sure we have fallen all that far. The WSJ editorial/opinion section has been wildly and overtly slated for as long as I can remember. What's different these days is 1) the echo chamber and 2) the fact that one of the major political parties has adopted an anti-science posture--something that would have been political suicide 30 or 40 years ago.

  2. Roy Grubb (who is a bit too kind to Dick Lindzen): here.

    So, who is Henk Tennekes?

    The first hit on anything written in English is at Roger Sr.'s site, not exactly a commendation in my book.

    "When Will They Ever Learn?"

    Despite the title, he closes with Dylan's "The Times, They are A-Changin'". Hrmph.

    And "the incomprehensible jargon used by the Bayesian crowd"... hrmph.

    But he does seem to know something about turbulence.

    • Tennekes is a bona fide authority on turbulence, co-author of a venerable textbook on the subject. Put him in the Akasofu category, I guess: once good scientists gone adrift.

  3. The WSJ, who owners were caught buying their own paper in order to 'boost' their circulation figures? The WSJ, which lashed out against newspapers covering the News of the World phone hacking scandal?

    The WSJ is insane; we all know that.

    But don't worry; I'm sure the Democratic party has got all the politics sorted out, and they'll just need to give a WSJ a gentle slap in the wrist, because we can't afford to anger His Wealthy Majesty Rupert Murdoch, no doubt a rich source of campaign funding. Or something.

    -- frank

  4. A group of the most prominent 'sceptics' get space to put their arguments in an internationally recognised news outlet and this is the best they could come up with? Surely this represents a huge opportunity to demonstrate to anyone with even a hint of doubt where the balance of argument lies in this debate? This is as clear a demonstration of the paucity of 'sceptic' argument as we could ever wish for.

  5. I read that yesterday (the WSJ arrives to my office with a subscription in my name each day) and the paper sits, open to that page, on the floor of my office. I wanted to compose myself prior to responding to it. The Lysenkoism, gulag, death implication was shocking.

    But I think we need to consider that this was written precisely for the reason Michael states - to provide cover among the pantheon of WSJ readers for the policy inaction desired by the writers. And that pantheon (significantly less scientifically sophisticated than the typical commenter at Climate Audit or WUWT as far as I can tell) eats that s _ _ _ up.

    I think that these folks could produce a less inflammatory, less overtly antagonistic, more superficially reasonable article (after all, they aren't stupid - Rutan for example, about whom I've blogged, is among the brightest people ever involved in aircraft design) but they're playing to the crowd. Unfortunately (tragically?), that crowd has huge political influence.

    In short, this isn't the best they can do, it's the shoe that fits.

  6. Can I say 'I told you so'?

    But don't worry; I'm sure the Democratic party has got all the politics sorted out, and they'll just need to give a WSJ a gentle slap in the wrist, because we can't afford to anger His Wealthy Majesty Rupert Murdoch, no doubt a rich source of campaign funding. Or something.

    It's been two days already, and Climate Progress has written exactly nothing about WSJ garbage article.

    Well, it's understandable -- this is election season, after all, which is why it's very important that Climate Progress and its parent ThinkProgress blog

    (1) turn themselves into Obama shill blogs, and

    (2) avoid any and all criticism of anyone -- such as someone with the first name Rupert -- who may potentially give Obama lots of election campaign funding.

    And it's not just Rupert; Glenn Greenwald tells us that ThinkProgress is also self-censoring in the service of certain other powerful lobby groups.

    Indeed, this is how far the US has fallen.

    -- frank

    • ClimateProgress has now written about the WSJ article

      It is very easy to think you know why someone hasn't blogged about a topic you think they should write about. But often it turns the reason turns out to be utterly mundane (ie lack of time, or other articles took priority).

      Joe Romm certainly doesn't seem to ever shy away from controversy (even when he should), and he seems to enjoy taking pot-shots at the WSJ and other right wing publications (even when he shouldn't) so I find it hard to believe that the reason it took him a while to write a response to the WSJ was because of the internal politics of CAP.

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  10. Be of good cheer! The WSJ/Exxon 16 really stepped in it. Peter Gleick criticizes the Journal from Forbes. How will the Journal push back, in view of all the following problems?

    The 16 overreached by misrepresenting conservative economist Nordhous.
    Revkin has the quote: "The piece completely misrepresented my work. My work has long taken the view that policies to slow global warming would have net economic benefits, in the trillion of dollars of present value. This is true going back to work in the early 1990s (MIT Press, Yale Press, Science, PNAS, among others). I have advocated a carbon tax for many years as the best way to attack the issue. I can only assume they either completely ignorant of the economics on the issue or are willfully misstating my findings." (Nordhous)

    Rutan seems not to be as smart as you think. Rabett's thumping Allegre. This post recalls statements from the Defense Department and even major oil companies on the dangers of climate change. Romm and Skeptical Science hit many points with Romm promising a whole post on Nordhous. The Journal and the 16 are way out on a limb. Who can write the best essay pulling it all together and get it published where it will be read? That is the question. Candidates?

  11. "The article speaks approvingly of Ivan Glaever"

    I had the dubious pleasure of attending a lecture by this guy (The name is Ivar Giaever btw) at the 250th anniversary of the Norwegian Society of Sciences two years ago. The announced topic of his presentation had something to do with the chemical basis of life. However, it soon became obvious (from his pre-prepared powerpoint presentation) that the intention all along was to a dedicate most of his to lecture to a long, embarrassing rant against climate science (nothing new, by the way, just the same old debunked arguments and denialist retoric).

    I have since often noticed this strategy of using a relatively neutral topic as a "trojan horse" to smuggle in as much denialist retoric as possible. It should be consideres a huge red flag whenever someone feels the need to diguise the true topic of their talk.

  12. Pingback: Alarmists hysterically react to WSJ op-ed | My Blog

  13. OK, I'm becoming suspicious that there is some nefarious master-plan going on here.

    The Wall Street Journal article is so obviously specious (well, the content is so obviously specious - or is it the article itself? Hmmm...) that common sense would suggest that there is something more going on. Reading through some of the voluminous debunking is making me think their tactic is a simple one - put out one article that so clearly begs to be addressed that it draws all the attention and wastes the time of people who would be much more constructively employed elsewhere. A sacrificial lamb of 'scepticism'.

    Perhaps though there is even more to it than that. Are they setting out such a preposterous position so that subsequent moves towards more moderate arguments will appear credible? This is a tried and trusted political manoeuvre.

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