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That Climate-Change Petition


As promised, here’s one of those informative e-mails. I have no time properly to research the claims the writer makes, but if someone has counter-claims, I’ll post ‘em. The e-mail is reproduced, and the e-mailer identified, with his permission.

Dear Mr. Derbyshire,

I am writing regarding your article entitled “Trust Science.” While I agree with the thrust and most of the content of the article, I was troubled by your mention of the 31,000 “scientists” who expressed skepticism of global climate change. That number comes from petitions circulated by the Oregon Institute for Science and Medicine, a quirky outfit run by a handful of eccentric scientists past their prime. [snip] The co-founder of the Institute, Gary North, is also a prolific author of doomsday books with titles such as “None Dare Call It Witchcraft,”  “Conspiracy: A Biblical View,”  “Rapture Fever,” and “How You Can Profit From the Coming Price Controls.”

The first OISM petition was mailed to an enormous number of scientists (the OISM will not reveal how many), along with a paper formatted to look as though it had been published in PNAS, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

The NAS first heard of the petition when its members began calling to ask about it:  “The mailing is clearly designed to be deceptive by giving people the impression that the article, which is full of half-truths, is a reprint and has passed peer review,” complained Raymond Pierrehumbert, a meteorlogist at the University of Chicago. NAS foreign secretary F. Sherwood Rowland, an atmospheric chemist (and Nobel prize winner), said researchers “are wondering if someone is trying to hoodwink them.” NAS council member Ralph J. Cicerone, dean of the School of Physical Sciences at the University of California at Irvine, was particularly offended that [Frederick] Seitz described himself in the cover letter as a “past president” of the NAS. Although Seitz had indeed held that title in the 1960s, Cicerone hoped that scientists who received the petition mailing would not be misled into believing that he “still has a role in governing the organization.” [snip]The NAS issued an unusually blunt formal response to the petition drive. “The NAS Council would like to make it clear that this petition has nothing to do with the National Academy of Sciences and that the manuscript was not published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences or in any other peer-reviewed journal,” it stated in a news release. “The petition does not reflect the conclusions of expert reports of the Academy.” In fact, it pointed out, its own prior published study had shown that “even given the considerable uncertainties in our knowledge of the relevant phenomena, greenhouse warming poses a potential threat sufficient to merit prompt responses. Investment in mitigation measures acts as insurance protection against the great uncertainties and the possibility of dramatic surprises.”

Furthermore, according to a May, ‘98 Associated Press article, the Oregon petition included names that were intentionally placed to prove the invalid methodology with which the names of scientists were collected. The petition included the names of “Drs. ‘Frank Burns,’ ‘Honeycutt,’ and ‘Pierce’ from the hit-show M*A*S*H and Spice Girls, a.k.a. Geraldine Halliwell, who was on the petition as ‘Dr. Geri Halliwel’ and again as simply ‘Dr. Halliwell.’” Of the fake names, Robinson is quoted as saying: “When we’re getting thousands of signatures there’s no way of filtering out a fake.”

Apparently the OISM has sent the new version of the petition to a huge number of people who hold a Bachelor’s degree or higher in science, math, and engineeering. [snip] I myself have received at least three copies. Of the 31,000 signatories of the new petition, 9,000 supposedly hold Ph.D.’s, but few of them are geologists or climatologists. I urge you to investigate the origins of this petition and the nature of the Oregon Institute before propagating the fiction that there is extensive disagreement on global climate change in the scientific community.

On a personal note, I have been teaching ecology and environmental science at the University level for twenty-four years; when I started out I was a global warming skeptic, but I find the amount of evidence now available to be simply overwhelming, in spite of the Climategate fiasco. If I may use an analogy, the Piltdown Man hoax, disgraceful though it was, does not invalidate the science of physical anthropology.


Dan F. Ippolito
Professor of Biology


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