Everyone’s a scientist

Could Nevada have 346 climate experts?

This is the Nevada page on the website that lists “scientists” who are skeptical of global warning.

This is the Nevada page on the website that lists “scientists” who are skeptical of global warning.

A website that claims to feature the signatures of 31,487 scientists who are skeptics about global warming includes the names of 346 Nevadans—though it appears that few if any of them are climate scientists.

While time and resources did not permit checking out all 346 Nevada names, those we did check were revealing.

At least 21 are medical doctors. Two are veterinarians. Some are dead.

Larry Joe Garside is a retired research geologist.

A Lauren H Mattingly is listed. There was a medical student of that name at the University of Nevada School of Medicine. She departed a year ago for a residency at the U.S. Naval Medical Center in San Diego—and in any event, she was in immunology.

Robert C. Broadbent is a very familiar name in Nevada, but he is not the prominent Las Vegas public administrator, who is dead, because the middle initial does not match. It also appears he is not the physician who served in the Nevada Legislature in 1972-74. There is a Robert Broadbent with the middle initial C who serves as a resident agent in the state for out of state companies that incorporate in Nevada.

John H. DeTar is founder of a chapter of a Reno chapter of the John Birch Society that was active in the 1960s.

Greg Millspaugh is a former political figure, now deceased.

Frederick Kirk Odencrantz is deceased.

A John Polish is similarly unidentified, though there is a former Nevada state legislator by that name.

The names appear at Petitionproject.org under the title “Global Warming Petition Project.” A statement on the website reads, “Signatories to the petition are required to have formal training in the analysis of information in physical science. This includes primarily those with BS, MS, or PhD degrees in science, engineering, or related disciplines.” However, this requirement does not appear to have been rigorously enforced, because among the names that have appeared on the site are those of John Grisham, Michael J. Fox, Frank Burns, B. J. Honeycutt, Benjamin Pierce and Geraldine Halliwell (AKA Ginger Spice).

Clearly, it is possible to sign the petition without an invitation, but most signatures reportedly resulted from mass mailings by the petition sponsors, who send out reply postcards that recipients can sign and drop in the mail. The source or content of the mailing lists used is unknown, but Nature magazine quoted University of Maryland physics professor Robert Park, who said, “Virtually every scientist in every field got it. That’s a big mailing.” It appears that numerous lists of people with advanced degrees, whether in climate sciences or not, were used.

The petition went up online in the late 1990s, after which about 17,000 names were gathered. It was dormant for several years, then new names were added in 2007, raising the total to about 31,000 signatures. The petition that the “scientists” sign reads:

“We urge the United States government to reject the global warming agreement that was written in Kyoto, Japan, in December 1997, and any other similar proposals. The proposed limits on greenhouse gases would harm the environment, hinder the advance of science and technology, and damage the health and welfare of mankind. There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gasses is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate. Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth.”

Garside, who previously taught at the University of Nevada, Reno, said it has been years since he added his name to the list, but he does not believe he was contacted directly. “I believe there was something online, and there was a link that I could go to and sign the petition,” he said. “As far as I can tell, they don’t ever refresh or renew their list.”

He added that he has kept up with the evolving science, and “I’m not sure that I would sign that again today. I’d have to review it. I think I still actually doubt if we have all the information on causes, but I don’t doubt that we have global warming.”

The list has been transferred from the petition to several other sites and was also used at a congressional hearing, so Garside’s name now appears in those places, too.

The petition is a project of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (OISM).

According to SourceWatch, OISM “is headed by Arthur B. Robinson, an eccentric scientist who has a long history of controversial entanglements with figures on the fringe of accepted research. OISM also markets a home-schooling kit for ‘parents concerned about socialism in the public schools’ and publishes books on how to survive nuclear war. … The OISM is located on a farm about 7 miles from the town of Cave Junction, Oregon (population 1,126). … Cave Junction is the sort of out-of-the-way location you might seek out if you were hoping to survive a nuclear war, but it is not known as a center for scientific and medical research.” (SourceWatch is a group formed to provide information on organizations because increasingly common misleading group names makes it difficult to know their actual orientations.)

Accompanying the petition on the website is a letter by Frederick Seitz, president of the United States National Academy of Sciences from 1962 to 1969 and an R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. scientist who argued that “there is no good scientific evidence” of harm caused by second-hand smoke. He died in 2008.

There is also a supposedly peer-reviewed article posted on the Oregon Petition site titled “Environmental Effects of Increased Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide.” The site originally counterfeited the format of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a scientific journal, leading readers to believe it had appeared in that journal, which it had not. That prompted the National Academy to issue a statement “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.”

The OISM is pretty good at getting its message out through gullible journalists. On one occasion in May 2008, the Oregon Institute sent out a news release, and a news website—Salem-News.com in Salem, Ore.—printed it as a news story, generating angry reader comments.

There has been growing criticism of journalists who use people outside the climate field as experts on climate change in news stories. Using a group that lumps anyone with a college degree in some science into a group of scientists with supposed credentials to evaluate climate change, as the Oregon Petition does, would fall into that category.

Another is meteorologists. The American Meteorological Society supports the scientific consensus that climate change is occurring, but the society also hands out certificates and seals to people, usually television weather forecasters, who take its certification courses. Based on the seals, those people tend to call themselves meteorologists, though they do not usually have college degrees in meteorology. Although not scientists, many TV weathercasters have been portrayed as climate change experts.

After the Columbia Journalism Review ran an article on TV weathercasters speaking out on climate change, one reader posted a comment summing up the article: “Meteorologists forecast the weather, not the climate.”

In the New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert has written, “The message from scientists at this point couldn’t be clearer: The world’s emissions trajectory is extremely dangerous. Goofball weathermen, Climategate, conspiracy theories—these are all a distraction from what’s really happening. Which, apparently, is what we’re looking for.”