Contrarians and Consistency

In an earlier version of my Climate, Oil, and RICO web page I wrote "I don't recall climate contrarians coming to the defense of Michael Mann" during the Cuccinelli investigation. Since then it has been pointed out to me that several prominent contrarians, including Steve McIntyre, Ross McKitrick, John Christy, and others, did in fact come to Mann's defense. I changed the original post to be a less categorical statement and applaud those who spoke out in defense of someone with whom they vehemently disagreed.

When I wrote the original post, I was thinking more of conservative media I had seen rather than any specific researchers. For instance, Breitbart inaccurately described the RICO letter as "Use RICO Laws to Jail Skeptics!" but earlier referred to a Washington Post criticism of the Cuccinelli investigation of Mann as "a shrill tantrum". Similarly, Powerlineblog mischaracterized the RICO letter as "Arrest Those Climate Skeptics!" demonstrating the "totalitarian tendencies of American liberals" but sarcastically wrote "Cuccinelli's subpoena has been greeted with howls and protests from warmists and others who view inquiry into a scientist's work as an infringement of academic freedom--the freedom, that is, to make stuff up...".

And Speaking of Consistency...

It's good that people are speaking out on behalf of free speech, though in my opinion the chance of a RICO suit being a serious threat to academic freedom is infinitesmal. We have already seen one RICO lawsuit (against tobacco companies), inconclusive government-sponsored shamefests initiated by Representative Joe Barton, Senator Inhofe, and Virginia AG Ken Cuccinelli against Mann and others, and a rather abortive attempt of Representative Grijalva to do the same to skeptics, (which ended in Grijalva stepping back from what he himself termed "overreach"). I haven't seen any decline in the willingness of people to research, or opine about, climate.

My own ambivalence about the RICO letter concerns the contribution it is making to the continued polarization of the climate discussion. I think it would be useful to see how much industry is funding some scientists (or not), but I don't think that this is the most important feature of the climate debate. In much of my other discourse on climate I have tried to avoid getting caught up in the tribalism of competing sides, so I plead guilty to inconsistency in joining in an effort that raises the temperature of the debate.

But speaking of inconsistency, some of the thoughtful people who have responded to our letter seem to be working at cross purposes, if their purpose is to further an atmosphere in which people are free to express views without being attacked. My post has been dubbed "reckless misinformation" for the statement at top of page (since corrected), but it would be nice to see some posts denouncing the reckless misinformation that has been bouncing around the internet on this topic. Besides the spurious "jailing skeptics" references above, there is a similar headline from Marc Moreno, and another (The Examiner) saying we are trying to "end climate debate".

Regarding other things I've read on the internet about this topic, I find it a bit strange for someone to take a principled stand against government harassment of scientists and then to launch personal attacks in retaliation for a political opinion with which the person disagrees.

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Last modified: 29 September, 2015.