Selected articles from
VOL. 22  NO. 3  WINTER 2009-10




Assessing the Credibility of CFI's "Credibility Project"
on Man-made Global Warming

By Gary P. Posner

The September/October 2009 issue of Skeptical Inquirer carried a piece titled "Can a Reasonable Skeptic Support Climate Change Legislation?" by Dr. Stuart Jordan, a senior staff scientist (emeritus) at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and science advisor for the Center For Inquiry's Office of Public Policy (OPP) in Washington, D.C. (Tampa Bay Skeptics is a "Special Interest Group" of CFI's Tampa Bay branch.)

The article begins, "Skeptics are rightly challenged to assess claims made by all parties when an issue of major public importance arises. . . . Questions related to [man-made global warming (MMGW)] . . . represent such an issue today." Dealing more with the political debate surrounding proposed climate-change legislation than with specific scientific facts about global warming, Jordan later notes:

Both sides have made significant efforts to establish scientific credibility with the public. . . . Those favoring action rely heavily on the IPCC-2007 science report [by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change]. . . . In contrast, [the office of dissenter] James Inhofe . . . the ranking Republican member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works . . . has issued a . . . report titled United States Senate Minority Report on Global Warming. . . . As of January 2009, the number of . . . individuals identified [in the Report] as scientists who allegedly dissent over [MMGW] claims . . . was 687 [including] some quite well-known scientists.

Jordan then goes on to discuss the efforts of CFI's OPP to "vet the list [of 687 dissenting scientists] carefully to establish how credible it is overall." Though he doesn't mention its official name in the piece, this endeavor was dubbed by OPP as the "Credibility Project." And, as Jordan relates, its findings appear devastating for the dissenters.

After thus laying the groundwork for the following ostensible no-brainer, Jordan ends by rhetorically asking "the skeptic who is not acquainted with the relevant science where he or she thinks the most credible scientific assessment lies -- with the scientists whose published research is reported in the IPCC-2007 science report or with the much smaller group of scientists collected for the Senate minority report."

Some background: In May 2009, the OPP had disseminated a "Dear Citizen" announcement about its upcoming July 18-21 "Second Annual Civic Days at the Nation's Capital." Among the advertised agenda items: "You will hear about . . . an OPP-sponsored project exposing fake 'scientists' who oppose global warming" (see graphic on right). But two months later, in an invitation to the Credibility Project's July 17 Press Conference at the National Press Club, no longer was OPP referring to the dissenting scientists as "fake." When I inquired as to whether this reflected "an evolution on CFI's part," OPP executive director Toni Van Pelt (formerly the executive director of CFI's Tampa Bay branch) replied, "It is true, Gary, that your many emails [I routinely copy her when corresponding on this subject] influenced my decision to commission this research."

Because I harbor my own doubts about there being a man-made-global-warming crisis, as proud godfather I anxiously awaited the details of the Credibility Project's assessment of the skeptical scientists. Its most significant finding constitutes the subtitle of Dr. Jordan's Skeptical Inquirer piece: "CFI vets list of 687 ‘dissenting scientists' in Senate minority report; 80 percent haven't published peer-reviewed climate research." Largely for this reason, in its July 17 Press Release, OPP concluded that its findings "expose a lack of credibility among dissenting scientists challenging man-made global warming."

But in my follow-up to Toni, I explained why "It simply does not logically follow that [those skeptical scientists] necessarily lack the credibility to speak to the issues at hand," any more than I lack the legitimacy to critique, for example, medical studies touting prayer and healing, as I have done in CFI-sponsored magazines despite never having published studies of my own in the peer-reviewed literature.

Speaking further to the relevance of "80 percent [not having] published peer-reviewed climate research," Skeptical Inquirer columnist Robert Sheaffer e-mailed a letter to the editor (cc'ed to other interested parties, including Jordan and myself) that reads in part, "I am wondering whether Dr. Jordan and CFI likewise vetted the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), described [in the article] as a group of ‘approximately 2,000 scientists worldwide.' If this vetting was not done, why not? Did CFI simply assume that all 2,000 are professional climate researchers who have published peer-reviewed research? Very bad assumption!"

Sheaffer then references a recent debate in which Prof. William Schlesinger, a lead IPCC author, when asked (at 3:35 of this YouTube video), "Of the 2,500 members of the IPCC, how many are climate scientists?" responded, "Actually there is a huge range of different disciplines represented there. I'm going to have to give you a guess that something in the order of 20% have some dealing with climate." Sheaffer's letter continues:

In other words, 80 percent of the IPCC membership had absolutely no dealing with the climate as part of their academic studies. Jordan's ‘knockout punch' was: "80 percent [of dissenters] haven't published peer-reviewed climate research."

So, these two groups appear to have approximately the same makeup in terms of actual [climate] scientists. In fact, the dissenting group appears stronger, because their 20% is held to a higher standard (peer-reviewed research) vs. the IPCC's (had some academic study of climate).

In his emailed reply to Sheaffer (et al.), Dr. Jordan advises Sheaffer that

One of the favorite tactics of global warming deniers is to refer to the [IPCC's summary] report for policymakers, which summarizes [their separate] science report [authored by 2000 real climate scientists]. There [in the summary report] it is true that the majority are not climate scientists, because they are presenting a summary, that is based upon the science report, to government officials, in the language of policy recommendations. Clearly this is comparing apples and oranges. The IPCC-2007 report titled "The Physical Science Basis" is a true science report, written by and summarizing the work of approximately 2000 real scientists.

However, Sheaffer compares apples to apples -- he did not reference the "summary" report, authored by 51 members of the IPCC. And though the 2,000 (actually closer to 2,500) are, as Dr. Jordan says, "real scientists," if Prof. Schlesinger's "guess" was close to the target, only about 500 or so (20%) "have some dealing with climate." And only 620 contributed to the writing of the IPCC-2007 report, as Sheaffer points out in an addendum to his original letter, which also notes that "we do not know for certain that all 620 of them have published at least one climate-related paper in a peer-reviewed journal, the criterion by which the other group is measured." Sheaffer concludes, "This whole exercise [by CFI's OPP] is logically flawed and invalid unless both groups are ‘vetted' by the same criteria, and the results compared."

It thus seems that the "Credibility Project," conceived by CFI's Office of Public Policy for the purpose of "exposing fake 'scientists'" who dare dissent from the prevailing climate of climate-change alarmism, has some credibility problems of its own. After polishing the Project's clouded lens, as one again examines Dr. Jordan's question about whether "the most credible scientific assessment lies . . . with the [IPCC] scientists . . . or with the . . . scientists collected for the Senate minority report," the answer doesn't appear to be such a no-brainer after all.

[A version of this article appears in the Jan/Feb 2010 Skeptical Inquirer, followed by a response from Dr. Jordan.]



CHAIRMAN'S CORNER:

"Once more unto the breach, dear friends" --Shakespeare

By Terry A. Smiljanich

Once again, our esteemed founder has plunged into the morass that seems to surround the man-made global warming (MMGW) debate. I was initially leery of seeing TBS Report publish another article by Gary (see "Confessions of a ‘Holocaust Denier,'" Spring 2009) about what at first may appear to be a pet peeve of his (and some other of our members), but a careful review of what he has written convinced me that publication was appropriate.

And to add fuel to this fire, we now have "Climategate," the controversy surrounding the unauthorized publication of internal e-mails between certain climate scientists, which imply some attempts to fudge the figures in order to downplay any cooling trends.

What bothers me about the whole MMGW debate is the ideological flavor permeating the issue, with conservatives flocking to one side, and liberals to the other, of what is essentially a scientific, not political, debate. If you believe the liberals, all MMGW skeptics are blind followers of Rush Limbaugh and Sean ("The debate is over") Hannity, with their patently ridiculous comments on this complicated subject, while if you believe the conservatives, all proponents of MMGW are elitists or socialists who believe Al Gore is the world's foremost climate scientist.

But clearly Gary is right that the MMGW proponents have unfairly compared the published lists of scientists in the competing reports he talks about. And thanks somewhat to Gary's prodding, CFI's Office of Public Policy now realizes that the scientific debate is not as one-sided as they originally assumed.

Thus, the liberal OPP (a confession -- I am also proud to call myself a liberal) clearly rushed a little too quickly to judgment over the bona fides of the scientists signing on to the Senate Republican "Minority Report on Global Warming." Now, with both sides involved in a "vetting war" over who has more "legitimate" climate scientists on their side, we see this scientific debate carried on as though science were a debating club.

I also do not like to see as much attention being paid in local skeptical groups like ours to what is clearly not an issue of paranormal significance. We do promote scientific literacy in addition to questioning the paranormal, but the MMGW debate among the pundits and political leaders has plenty of scientific illiteracy on both sides. Unlike the Intelligent Design/Creationist issue, one side of this debate does not have a monopoly on good science. I am left to wonder, however, why even among skeptics, ideological leanings (both liberal and conservative) seem to be so predictive of opinions.

As I have written before, I am more in the middle on this than many of my colleagues. I am not as well read or competent on the subject as either Gary on one side or those scientists on the other who argue that MMGW is a proven reality. From what I have read, I tend to believe that human pollution is harming our planet and causing long-term damage, including climate changes. No, however, I don't think New York will soon be under water or that "killer hurricanes" will descend upon us in droves.

As I also have mentioned before, I have two close friends who are marine biologists studying biota in our oceans and gulfs. At a recent Christmas party at their house, I talked to some climate scientists and biologists about the "Climate-gate" controversy. They all rolled their eyes and bemoaned the fact that conservative pundits have been so quick to proclaim victory. They asked, "Does anyone really think that you can just tinker with some facts and change the scientific results? Do people think we scientists are so stupid?" When they tell me that preeminent European "climate scientists" of their close acquaintance are firmly convinced of MMGW and tell them that this appears to be a close consensus among their respective colleagues, do I take this as convincing "proof?" Does the "Arctic Dipole" effect, explaining loss of Arctic ice due to climate changes, settle the matter? No, and I think we should still consider the jury to be out. But when I see MMGW deniers point to the fact that there was more polar cap loss in 2007 than there was this year, while ignoring the clear trends stretching over years, I wonder how fair they are being.

Whether Senate Republicans or former Democratic Vice Presidents believe that MMGW is or is not an important issue is wholly beside the point. One thing we know for certain: The answers are in nature, and the more we understand nature the clearer the answers will become, regardless of which side has more votes or "better" scientists.



Snippets

Don Addis, a member of TBS since our first month of operations in 1988, died of lung cancer on November 29. A uniquely gifted intellect and cartoonist, Don's contributions for two decades to the "Snippets" page were of incalculable value in helping TBS Report achieve whatever credibility it has enjoyed.

To read his St. Petersburg Times obituary, containing highlights of Don's remarkable career, click here.

Following are but a few of the 'toons (as he called them) that Don graciously created for us over the years:

 

                              

 

                                        

 

                                        

 

                                        

 

                                        



Noreen Renier and the
Tiffany Sessions Case

Readers may recall the case of Tiffany Sessions, the 20-year-old coed who disappeared from the University of Florida's Gainesville campus in February 1989. Our Winter 1991-92 and Spring 1992 issues carried articles about Sessions' mother utilizing "psychic detective" John Monti in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to locate her daughter, and we quoted Mrs. Sessions that "Mr. Monti was probably the 25th psychic" that she had worked with.

But we did not know, until recently discovering the April 25, 1989, issue of the Weekly World News on the Web, that before the mother had worked with Monti, the father had consulted Noreen Renier. The article quotes Renier: "I can find Tiffany Sessions -- dead or alive. . . . I've gotten some leads from her toothbrush because it gave off enough energy for a psychic reading. . . . I get pictures in my head. . . . I have some very good vibes about this case. . . . My job is to find her, one way or another."

And Tiffany's father says of Renier, "She has just started, but she has certainly given me enough information to show me she has a good feel for the case."

Unfortunately, more than a decade has since passed, and there has still been no trace of Tiffany.



Kathy Fountain retires from TV

Kathy Fountain, a good friend of Tampa Bay Skeptics who hosted TBS members more than a dozen times from 1989 through 2009 on her afternoon talk show, is retiring from Ch. 13 as of January 1 to work full time in mental health counseling (she holds a master's degree in the field).

Her very second program (9/5/89) covered the results of TBS's very first "$1,000 Challenge." TBS conducted live "$1,000 Challenges" on her show in 1993 and 1994. Another planned in 1999 was preempted by late-breaking news on the arrest of the parents of missing toddler Sabrina Aisenberg.

Though she also interviewed guests such as "Gulf Breeze UFO" photographer Ed Walters, whom she thanked for his "honesty" (unaware that he was a hoaxer), on balance Fountain was a beacon of light, and an absolute delight.

As for Kathy's new career path, we wish her well and can authoritatively report that there is no truth to the rumor that she will specialize in treating "UFO abductees."



Letters to the Editor

Hi, Gary: My talk show career started with an interview with you. Would you like to close it down as well?

We would like to have you as a guest on December 8 about climate change. I know you're skeptical and we'd love to have you on the panel to discuss the "Climategate" e-mail controversy.

--Kathy Fountain
  WTVT-TV 13
  Kathy.Fountain@FoxTV.com

Back in 1989 I was one of three panelists on Kathy's second show (her 9/5/89 program mentioned above that included a discussion about the results of TBS's first "$1,000 Challenge"). During my December 8 appearance (my ninth altogether, again as one of three panelists), I made clear that I was expressing my own views on global warming and not necessarily those of TBS. --G.P.


Hello: I am a journalism student at Ithaca College in New York. I am currently taking a critical thinking and skepticism course and working on a research paper in which I am trying to disprove the claims of someone who calls himself a psychic. I found TBS through research, and was intrigued by the results that you have found. I was wondering if you would be willing to do an interview with me about skepticism and people with supernatural abilities. Thank you very much.

--Gillian Smith
  gsmith1623@gmail.com

Editor's reply: During the approximately 30-minute telephone interview, as I began to explain why it is not possible to "prove the negative," Gillian informed me that her course had just covered that point the previous day!



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