Category Archives: Climate

Another Journalist Distorts Science

A January 6 opinion piece in Forbes magazine claims scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate warming is a canard used by scientists to propagate fear in the public. This assertion by the author Alex Epstein may have some shock value, but it’s not really worth much consideration or response. Though, I will briefly take the bait one last time to tighten the lid on this odorous scatology.

The article asks two simple questions. Epstein’s answers, however, are long, rhetorical, and lacking in citations to recent and peer-reviewed studies. I have answered each question here with simple concise statements using data provided on the NASA Climate website.

  1. What exactly do the climate scientists agree on?
  2. How do we know the 97% agree?

A1: Scientists agree that most historic climate changes are attributed to tiny changes in Earth’s orbit around the sun, which alter the amount of solar radiation received on Earth. Moreover, they agree that most of the current warming is very likely human-induced and has proceeded at an unprecedented rate in the past 1,300 years.

A2According to the NASA website, “Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities [1] and most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position. The following is a partial list of these organizations, along with links to their published statements and a selection of related resources.”

NASA identifies 7 major scientific societies with large memberships that have published statements on the significance of anthropogenic climate warming, including the American Association for the Advancement of ScienceAmerican Chemical SocietyAmerican Geophysical Union, and American Medical Association. Refer to this web page for a list of about 200 worldwide scientific organizations that agree that climate change has been caused by human action. And, I recently commented on two new signatories, the Smithsonian Institution and the Union of Concerned Scientists, here.

The consensus view highlighted in A2 above differs from the putative statement Epstein associates with climate scientists, such as “97% of climate scientists [agree] that human beings are the main cause of warming.” Clearly, the meaning conveyed in NASA’s statement is much different from Epstein’s statement. But, Epstein’s entire article is based on this false statement that most good climate scientists would avoid uttering.

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Once again, we see a journalist and non-scientist waxing authoritatively on a subject he knows little about and one far beyond the scope of his training. The full article “’97% Of Climate Scientists Agree’ Is 100% Wrong” is online here. The author’s bio on its own will probably seal the deal for most readers.

I write about the environmental benefits of industrial progress. An energy philosopher, debater, and communications consultant, I am the Founder and President of the Center for Industrial Progress and head of the I Love Fossil Fuels Campaign. I have defended fossil fuel energy in debates against Greenpeace, 350.org, and the Sierra Club. You can read more about my work at AlexEpstein.com, and see the first chapter of my new book free at MoralCaseForFossilFuels.com.

Can anyone define an “energy philosopher“ or explain the discipline of energy philosophy? Aside from a few personal blogs and social network pages with banners of “The Energy Philosopher”, I could not find anything online about this branch of philosophy. And, consider the following from his website and new book:

  • Founder and President of the Center for Industrial Progress: Its mission is to “bring about a new industrial revolution.” Epstein and his “think tank” claim there is a “moral case for fossil fuels.”
  • The Moral Case For Fossil Fuels, the book: Epstein makes the dubious claim that we only learn about the downside of fossil fuels. I posit that most of us recognize fossil fuels as a relatively inexpensive source of energy. We also know there are health-related costs and, for example, immeasurable environmental cleanup and litigation costs—think Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon oil spills just to name two disasters.  Epstein suggests the moral significance of fossil fuel use is driven by its low cost and capacity to improve life on Earth.

Patrick J. Michaels, the director of the Center for the Study of Science at the Cato Institute, has this to say about Epstein’s new book:

Alex Epstein’s long-anticipated book, The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, published by Penguin, comes out today! I reviewed it as, “simply the best popular-market book about climate, environmental policy, and energy that I have read. Laymen and experts alike will be boggled by Epstein’s clarity.

Yes, I can see that many readers would be “boggled.” The climate denial and delusion movement, as illustrated by Epstein’s opinion piece, defines the media “echo chamber.”


  1.  W. R. L. Anderegg, “Expert Credibility in Climate Change,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Vol. 107 No. 27, 12107-12109 (21 June 2010); DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1003187107.

P. T. Doran & M. K. Zimmerman, “Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change,” Eos Transactions American Geophysical Union Vol. 90 Issue 3 (2009), 22; DOI: 10.1029/2009EO030002.

N. Oreskes, “Beyond the Ivory Tower: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change,” Science Vol. 306 no. 5702, p. 1686 (3 December 2004); DOI: 10.1126/science.1103618.

The Process of Science: Does It Work?

Science is much more than a body of knowledge. It is a way of thinking. This is central to its success. Science invites us to let the facts in, even when they don’t conform to our preconceptions. It counsels us to carry alternative hypotheses in our heads and see which ones best match the facts. It urges on us a fine balance between no-holds-barred openness to new ideas, however heretical, and the most rigorous skeptical scrutiny of everything—new ideas and established wisdom. We need wide appreciation of this kind of thinking. It works. It’s an essential tool for a democracy in an age of change. Our task is not just to train more scientists but also to deepen public understanding of science.

—Carl Sagan (1990)

Last week’s New York Times Sunday Review section featured a first-rate opinion piece by Naomi Oreskes, Professor of the History of Science and Affiliated Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University. Her research focuses on the earth and environmental sciences, with an emphasis on understanding scientific consensus and dissent. The article, entitled “Playing Dumb on Climate Change,” is posted on the NYT website here.

The article’s title suggests the context—climate science and scientific communication. Oreskes summarizes important features of scientific inquiry and, in doing so, identifies a key aspect of science that could mean the threat of climate warming has been “underpredicted” by scientists and, therefore, understated by the media. I highly recommend a careful reading of her opinion piece, not only for its implication about climate warming but for its concise explanation of the scientific method.

Here are the key points made or implied by Oreskes, about good science.

  • Scientific appraisals are conservative, highly qualified, and provisional.
  • New scientific claims or denials of established theories are met with skepticism. The burden of proof rests on the person making the new claim. If one seeks to replace or deny a successful theory, then the alternative must be shown to explain a similarly full range of phenomena.
  • Science demands rigor (a lot of evidence and statistical significance).
  • A scientific claim must be falsifiable. Typically, a result or hypothesis is rejected when it fails to meet or exceed a 95 percent confidence limit. In other words, a claim is thrown out when the chance of it being a coincidence or false is shown to exceed 1 in 20.
  • The 95 percent confidence level is a value judgment based on an aversion to bias and making a mistake in claiming a phenomenon is real when it is not. In the jargon of statistics, this mistake is known as a Type 1 error.
  • Ideally, science requires a researcher to avoid the “method of the ruling theory” (or pet theory) and instead apply the “method of multiple working hypotheses.” See T. C. Chamberlain’s classic paper (Science 1890) for much more commentary on these methods.
  • Similarly, science requires a researcher to avoid the mistake of being too conservative or rejecting a phenomenon that is actually real (Type 2 error).

In science it often happens that scientists say, “You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,” and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.

—Carl Sagan (1987)

Science deniers often point to the process of inductive reasoning as laden with subjectivity and  uncertainty. Yes, science can never prove anything with 100 percent certainty; however, good science uses a very effective systematic approach that often identifies the most parsimonious explanation. The process consists of (1) devising alternative and competing hypotheses; (2) devising a clever experiment with alternative possible results, which enable the researcher to reject one or more of the alternative results; (4) performing the experiment to get meaningful results; and (5) repeating steps 1 – 4 to refine the remaining explanations or hypotheses. See the highly cited paper by J. R. Platt (Science 1964) for more on “strong inference.”

The preceding approach might suggest that the scientific method is an immutable, linear series of steps that always yields a clear result. On the contrary, the process of science (i.e., methods, data analysis, and findings) undergoes critical interactions with the scientific community through debate, peer review, and replication of experimental results.

To close, I reproduce below three brilliant and eloquent quotes from Richard Feynman, the Nobel Prize winning physicist, that offer insights into the process of science, specifically experimenter bias, experimentation, and scientific uncertainty, respectively.

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.

In general we look for a new law by the following process. First we guess it. Then we compute the consequences of the guess to see what would be implied if this law that we guessed is right. Then we compare the result of the computation to nature, with experiment or experience, compare it directly with observation, to see if it works. If it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It does not make any difference how beautiful your guess is. It does not make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is – if it disagrees with experiment it is wrong.

It is in the admission of ignorance and the admission of uncertainty that there is a hope for the continuous motion of human beings in some direction that doesn’t get confined, permanently blocked, as it has so many times before in various periods in the history of man.

Aradhna Tripati receives E.O. Wilson Award

The distinguished climate scientist Dr. Aradhna Tripati, assistant professor at UCLA, was presented with the E.O. Wilson Award for her original research on past climate change through Earth’s history and ocean acidification. Among her many accomplishments, she developed a new method that enabled scientists to estimate CO2 levels in fossilized marine shells millions of years old with high statistical confidence and low uncertainty.

Aradhna Tripati, PhD

Aradhna Tripati, PhD

The approach and results have improved our understanding of the effects of different CO2 levels on historical climate change. This new tool can also be used to inform policy-makers of the effects of varying levels of CO2 pollution on the global distribution of plants and animals. Dr. TripatiI’s work was given high praise in a statement by the executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity.

We’re honored to present this award to Dr. Tripati, whose brilliant science gives climate deniers no wiggle room, demonstrating beyond doubt the links between carbon dioxide pollution, global climate change and the history of life on Earth. Her advocacy for using the knowledge of past climate change to prepare for the future provides us with an important tool for protecting the diversity of life that sustains us all.

Additionally, Edward O. Wilson, the award’s namesake and Professor Emeritus in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, said:

At this pivotal moment in Earth’s history, climate change poses one of the most dire threats to the preservation of biodiversity. I congratulate Dr. Tripati on her award and urge other scientists to follow her example in advocating for reduced carbon emissions to safeguard the stable climate conditions on which all life on Earth depends.

Her research provides convincing evidence that CO2 is linked historically with  shifts in plant and animal ranges, ice distribution, and sea levels among other important phenomena. She said this about the award and her mentor:

“I’m honored to receive an award named for one of the true giants of modern science. E. O. Wilson’s pioneering work helped inspire my own research, and his lyrical descriptions of our planet’s incredible biodiversity also highlight how much is at stake as global warming begins to alter our world. My great hope is that science can help us preserve a livable climate.

Her research found that the last time CO2 levels were as high as they are now (about 400 ppm) was about 15 to 20 million years ago. This period is known as the Miocene warming—an epoch when global temperatures were 5 to 10 degrees (F) warmer, the sea level was 75 to 120 feet higher, and the distribution of plants and animals was much different from the pattern seen today.

Here’s Aradhna in a December 2013 interview. Brilliant!

Congratulations Aradhna!