Burning Down the House

Steve Zwick walked back his comments about letting skeptics’s houses burn down and tries to clarify the point he was trying to make.  I have further comments in a new Forbes article here.  An excerpt:

Steve Zwick has posted an update to the post I wrote about last week and has decided the house-burning analogy was unproductive.  Fine.  I have written a lot of dumb stuff on a deadline.  In his new post, he has gone so far in the opposite direction of balance and fairness that I am not even sure what his point is any more — the only one I can tease out is that people who intentionally bring bad information to a public debate should be held accountable in some way.  Uh, OK.  If he wants to lock up the entirety of Congress he won’t get any argument out of this libertarian.

Here is the problem with Mr. Zwick’s point in actual application:  Increasingly, many people on both sides of the climate debate have decided that the folks on the other side are not people of goodwill.  They are nefarious.  They lie.  They want to destroy the Earth or the want to promote UN-led world socialism.   If you believe your opponents are well-mentioned but wrong, you say “they are grossly underestimating future climate change which could have catastrophic effects on mankind.”  You don’t talk about punishments, because we don’t punish people who take the wrong scientific position — did we throw those phlogiston proponents in jail?  How about the cold fusion guys?

However, when the debate becomes politicized, we stop believing the other side is well-intentioned.  So you get people like Joe Romm describing the people on the two sides of the debate this way:

But the difference is that those who are trying to preserve a livable climate and hence the health and well-being of our children and billions of people this century quickly denounce the few offensive over-reaches of those who claim to share our goals — but those trying to destroy a livable climate [ie skeptics], well, for them lies and hate speech are the modus operandi, so such behavior is not only tolerated, but encouraged.

This is where the argument goes downhill.   When one group believes the other side is no longer just disagreeing, but “trying to destroy a livable climate” and for whom “lies and hate speech are the modus operandi,” then honest debate is no longer possible.  If I honestly thought a group of people really, truly wanted to destroy a livable climate, I might suggest letting their houses burn down too.

334 thoughts on “Burning Down the House”

  1. You know, you’re boring me, Will.

    You are a tedious and often nonsensical poster.

    There are only two questions I am interested in posing to you:

    What is a “skeptic” will?

    How does one become a “skeptic”?

  2. Wacko so all your opinions and claims come down to idiotic babble like this:

    “Why are you worrying about science anyway? You’re a skeptic, not a scientist.”

    Why do you worry then? Attacking and smearing scientists dozens of times in your various postings here? You’re not a scientist, you’re an… idiot… Ah hold on, idiots do have an excuses to do such things; because they lack intelligence.

  3. Obviously your list is important to you, or you would not spend so much time defending its existence—after all, most bloggers simply post their blogs and rhetorically walk away. It is unlikely, from what we know about you, that you have any monetary gain to be made from your blog nor would you have any professional gain.

    * Is your list important to you personally?

    The truth is important to me not necessarily the list. I would not need to spend so much time on it if lies, misinformation and strawman arguments were not made about the list. I have nothing to gain monetarily or professionally while lies to the contrary have been made.

    * Why is you list so important to you?

    The truth is important to me not necessarily the list. The truth that papers supporting skeptic arguments exist by highly credentialed scientists is important to me because it was claimed they did not. While it appears I am concerned with the list in some vanity sense this is false, what I am really concerned with is a factual representation of the list. I have always made valid corrections to the list and will continue to do so in the future.

    * What, if anything, did you think would happen once you compiled your list of papers?

    It would be used as a resource by skeptics and it has extensively. I have received many emails from scientists thanking me and emails from those angry that people lied to them that these papers did not exist such as this comment at RC,

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told by AGW voices that there are NO qualified skeptics or peer reviewed/published work by them. Including right here by RC regulars. In truth there is serious work and questions raised by significant work by very qualified skeptics which has been peer reviewed and published. It should be at least a bit disturbing for this type of denial to have been perpetrated with such a chorus. It’s one thing to engage and refute. But it’s not right to misrepresent as not even existing the counter viewpoints. I fully recognize the adversarial environment between the two opposing camps which RC and CA/WUWT represent, but the the perpetual declaration that there is no legitimate rejection of AGW is out of line.

    – John H., Comment at RealClimate.org

  4. Poptech,

    I would also add that the list of sceptical papers has probably no scientific value whatsoever. I have the suspicion (although I cannot prove this) that many or most of those papers have significant errors or are wrong. However, the actual list of ‘alarmist’ papers credibly endorsing a dangerous view of anthropogenic is also very small and most of the papers holding that perspective are most likely to be rubbish also.


    Definition found here:



    “A scientific (or empirical) skeptic is one who questions beliefs on the basis of scientific understanding. Most scientists, being scientific skeptics, test the reliability of certain kinds of claims by subjecting them to a systematic investigation using some form of the scientific method.[8] As a result, a number of claims are considered “pseudoscience” if they are found to improperly apply or ignore the fundamental aspects of the scientific method. Scientific skepticism may discard beliefs pertaining to things outside perceivable observation and thus outside the realm of systematic, empirical falsifiability/testability.”

  5. Note that I am referring to “The List” as a whole having little or no scientific value. I am NOT referring to the individual papers on that list. These will vary on a case by case basis, from rubbish to (in rare cases) ground breaking new research. Or in other words, so called ‘sceptical’ papers are no different from any other list of scientific papers.

    And, BTW, as has been pointed out before, scientists when they do research generally do not view themselves as ‘sceptics’ or ‘alarmists’. They simply view themselves as scientists. The political labels come later.

  6. ****”one who questions beliefs on the basis of scientific understanding.”

    ****”systematic investigation using some form of the scientific method.”

    So Will, does this mean that you can do the science?

  7. I would also add that the list of sceptical papers has probably no scientific value whatsoever. I have the suspicion (although I cannot prove this) that many or most of those papers have significant errors or are wrong.

    What? Any papers on the list where legitimate errors were found have had corrections published for them, these are included following the original paper. Now I am confused who’s side of this argument are you on?

  8. It can be correctly stated that “The List” as a whole is not a unified theory and no claim is made that it is but as a resource the list has tremendous scientific value for skeptics. To claim otherwise is just ridiculous.

  9. I guess the point I was trying to make, which Whacky doesn’t seem to get, is that science is not a matter of doing something and then thinking it is right because of an “opinion.” “Opinions” don’t matter in science, only results. Your list proves this. It has no scientific value on its own because it is all opinion.

    If Whacko could ever stop being a dick long enough he would see this.

  10. Noobletts,

    It would appear that our previous admonitions have had little effect on your behavior. You are still arguing about issues which are of no particular interest to anyone and have little to no probative value in the World Petroleum Institute’s bid to take over the world. Furthermore, the thread you are flaming on is long dead.

    We are sorry, but, since you have been representing NOOB in the manner you have, we feel we must be blunt about your online personas:

    Will: Please take time to think before you post, and we recommend you take a month just to read up on aspects of denial-culture which may, we hope, assist you in future flame-wars:
    • tenets of basic argumentation and citation,
    • best practices in word choice and standard English,
    • and the actual facts, personalities, and institutions in the climate debate.

    Andrew: We are sorry to inform you that, despite your best intentions in this regard, your list has little actual value as a mechanism of debate. Consider the following:
    • scientist who work in climate physics, climate chemistry, etc. do not need someone to compile “lists” for them; they are capable of doing their own research;
    • bloggers do not have access to a much that is on “the list,” generally would not understand the complexities of “the list,” and generally do not have time to adequately review “the list”; unfortunately, these issues alone render “the list” of little actual importance.

    Waldo: Shut the fuck up! Don’t you have something better to do with your time? Why are you still here? Just so you know, we’re not paying you for anything after our “May 9th, 7:25 pm” posting. Why did you pick such a stoopid moniker anyway?

    Thus, Andrew and Will, while we appreciate your work ethic to this point, I am afraid we must revoke your status as Nooblets. We regret this but feel it is in our best interests. You may reapply in the future by writing to The Heartland Institute, C/O Joseph L. Bast. The Heartland is losing its lease this month, so you will need to locate their future postal address via the Internet.

    In All That Is Oily,
    NOOB Central Command

  11. I stayed up all night reading this. My mom was really pissed. But I think I understand now—peer-review is where scientists get together and evaluate what is on Google Scholar.

    I’m sorry, Poptech, but I think I have to agree with Waldo. You can deny that there’s 40 years worth of climate science out there, but the numbers do not lie.

    But I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me.


  12. ****”Just so you know, we’re not paying you for anything after our “May 9th, 7:25 pm” posting.”


    ****”Why did you pick such a stoopid moniker anyway?”


    ****”Don’t you have something better to do with your time?”


  13. Wacko, I am glad I could give you a proper education on all of this. Too bad you are too much of a child to understand.

    Wacko, if the list had no value it would not be so relentlessly attacked, it would simply be ignored. There would be no need for you to desperately try to create so many lies and strawman arguments about it. Instead the exact opposite is happening and it’s page hits keep increasing. Scientists have directly thanked me for assisting them in locating these papers. They have stated that it is an invaluable resource. It is only going to get larger and larger and larger.

  14. You guys are all crazy to try to have a rational discussion with Waldo. Trying to do so is pure masochism.

  15. I think Waldo may be a sockpuppet for Warren Myer, trying to drive up traffic numbers. Ever notice that you never see Warren and Waldo at the same time? Both names start with a “W”?

    The post count on this thread rocketed 310 while Waldo was furiously waldonating and skidded to a halt when he left.

    This isn’t the only time I have observed this phenomenon.

    Say what you will about Waldo-wad, but he does get a response.

    I miss him already.

  16. Lance:

    I miss him also. I never saw a guy be so determined to in make a fool of himself in my whole life. His ignorance of technical matters is monumental. His debating skills are zero divided by infinity. BUT, he IS entertaining.

  17. ****”I think Waldo may be a sockpuppet for Warren Myer”

    Damn you, Lance, how did you know?!


    How’s the article coming?

  18. Sure, I like surprises. And I salute you, Lance, for being the first of Meyers Minions to actually put his money where his mouth is. I always knew you had it in you. This will also look really good on your CV when you apply to your doctoral institution.

    Of course, if you are just trolling…well, that’s a pretty unimaginative ruse and pretty easy to disbelieve…

    But you would not do that! Nope, you are going to dive into the pool of published scientists, prove you’re not just a pretender of the blogosphere, and for that I think you’re just keen. It’s a huge charge to see your name in a journal and to know that you’ve been measured by experts at the top of their field (’cause that’s who gets the honor of being a “reader,” as you know).

    I honestly believe you’ll ‘add to the conversation,’ as they say, about climate science. Go boy go!

  19. Lance:

    You have Waldo’s blessing! Like a gift from God! Who could ask for more in this life? With his clearly demonstrated expertise in all things technical and scientific, you can’t go wrong now that you have his approval.

  20. Ah shucks Ted, you flatter me. I feel a blush coming on.

    I do want to point out, however, that my know-how is strictly limited.

    That’s why I admire you folks with your advanced training who so bravely post here on a blogsite out in the middle of nowhere safely away from those folks who have the best know-how. You really show’em something that way. You in particular, Ted, are one of the boldest posters to never confront the actual engineers you post about.

    Sarcasm is not your forte.

  21. Heartland Institute facing uncertain future as staff depart and cash dries up
    Guardian UK

    The first Heartland Institute conference on climate change in 2008 had all the trappings of a major scientific conclave – minus large numbers of real scientists. Hundreds of climate change contrarians, with a few academics among them, descended into the banquet rooms of a lavish Times Square hotel for what was purported to be a reasoned debate about climate change.

    But as the latest Heartland climate conference opens in a Chicago hotel on Monday, the thinktank’s claims to reasoned debate lie in shreds and its financial future remains uncertain.

    Heartland’s claims to “stay above the fray” of the climate wars was exploded by a billboard campaign earlier this month comparing climate change believers to the Unabomer Ted Kaczynski, and a document sting last February that revealed a plan to spread doubt among kindergarteners on the existence of climate change.

    Along with the damage to its reputation, Heartland’s financial future is also threatened by an exodus of corporate donors as well as key members of staff.

    In a fiery blogpost on the Heartland website, the organisation’s president Joseph Bast admitted Heartland’s defectors were “abandoning us in this moment of need”.

    Over the last few weeks, Heartland has lost at least $825,000 in expected funds for 2012, or more than 35% of the funds its planned to raise from corporate donors, according to the campaign group Forecast the Facts, which is pushing companies to boycott the organisation.

    The organisation has been forced to make up those funds by taking its first publicly acknowledged donations from the coal industry. The main Illinois coal lobby is a last-minute sponsor of this week’s conference, undermining Heartland’s claims to operate independently of fossil fuel interests.

    Its entire Washington DC office, barring one staffer, decamped, taking Heartland’s biggest project, involving the insurance industry, with them.

    Board directors quit, conference speakers cancelled at short-notice, and associates of long standing demanded Heartland remove their names from its website. The list of conference sponsors shrank by nearly half from 2010, and many of those listed sponsors are just websites operating on the rightwing fringe.

    “It’s haemorrhaging,” said Kert Davies, research director of Greenpeace, who has spent years tracking climate contrarian outfits. “Heartland’s true colours finally came through, and now people are jumping ship in quick order.”

    It does not look like Heartland is about to adopt a corrective course of action.

    In his post, Bast defended the ads, writing: “Our billboard was factual: the Unabomber was motivated by concern over man-made global warming to do the terrible crimes he committed.” He went on to describe climate scientist Michael Mann and activist Bill McKibben as “madmen”.

    The public unravelling of Heartland began last February when the scientist Peter Gleick lied to obtain highly sensitive materials, including a list of donors.

    The publicity around the donors’ list made it difficult for companies with public commitment to sustainability, such as the General Motors Foundation, to continue funding Heartland. The GM Foundation soon announced it was ending its support of $15,000 a year.

    But what had been a gradual collapse gathered pace when Heartland advertised its climate conference with a billboard on a Chicago expressway comparing believers in climate science to the Unabomber.

    The slow trickle of departing corporate donors turned into a gusher.

    Even Heartland insiders, such as Eli Lehrer, who headed the organisation’s Washington group, found the billboard too extreme. Lehrer, who headed the biggest project within Heartland, on insurance, immediately announced his departure along with six other staff.

    “The ad was ill advised,” he said. “I’m a free-market conservative with a long rightwing resumé and most, if not all, of my team fits the same description and of us found it very problematic. Staying with Heartland was simply not workable in the wake of this billboard.”

    Heartland took down the billboard within 24 hours, but by then the ad had gone viral.

    Lehrer, who maintains the split was amicable, said the billboard had undermined Heartland’s claims to be a serious conservative thinktank.

    “It didn’t reflect the seriousness which I want to bring to public policy,” Lehrer said in the telephone interview. “As somebody who deals mostly with insurance I believe all risk have to be taken seriously and there certainly are some important climate and global warming related risks that must be taken account of in the insurance market. Trivialising them is not consistent with free-market thought. Suggesting they are only thought about by people who are crazy is not good for the free market.”

    Other Heartland allies came to a similar conclusion. In a letter to Heartland announcing he was backing out from the conference, Ross McKitrick, a Canadian economist wrote: “You can not simultaneously say that you want to promote a debate while equating the other side to terrorists and mass murderers.”

    A number of other experts meanwhile began cutting their ties with Heartland, according to a tally kept by a Canadian blogger BigCityLiberal.

    Meanwhile, there was growing anger that Bast failed to consult with colleagues before ordering up the Kaczynski attack ads.

    Four board members told the Guardian they had not been consulted in advance about the ad. “I did not have prior approval of the billboard and was in favor of discontinuing the billboard when I was made aware of it,” Jeff Judson, a Texas lobbyist and board member wrote in an email.

    Could the turmoil and discontent at Heartland eventually prove its undoing? Campaigners would certainly hope so. “We are watching the consequences of organisation that acts quite randomly and that is actually an extremist organisation in the end,” said Davies. “They are not built to be at the hump of the climate denial movement.”

    But while more mainstream corporate entities are deserting Heartland, others are stepping into the breach, including the coal lobby and conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation.

    Both the Illinois Coal Association and Heritage stepped in to fund this week’s conference, after other corporate donors began backing out in protest at the offensive Kaczynski ad.

    Meanwhile, a Greenpeace analysis of the other smaller conference sponsors suggests they have collectively received $5m in funds from Exxon and other oil companies.

    The Coal Association and Heritage were not listed on the original conference sponsor list, but appeared to come in about a week or so after the appearance of the offending Kaczynski ad.

    Phil Gonet, the chief lobbyist for the 20 coal companies in the association, said he had no qualms about stepping in to fund the Heartland conference.

    “We support the work they are doing and so we thought we would finally make a contribution to the organisation,” he said, calling criticism of the ad “moot”, “pointless” and “absurd”.

    Gonet went on: “I made a contribution mainly in support of a conference that is designed to make balanced information available to the public on the issue of global warming … In general, the message of the Heartland Institute is something the Illinois Coal Association supports.”

  22. The public’s fear of global warming has evaporated along with any support of carbon taxes.

    I would say “Mission Accomplished”!

  23. ****“Mission Accomplished”!****

    Funny…but where have I head that before?

    Yet another ironic intellectual milestone for Myers Minions!

  24. The polls confirm the facts as does the cooling since 2001.

    As long as the cooling continues the people will continue to loose fear of CAGW !

    Whether Heartland or reality caused this lack of fear is a moot point.

  25. It has always been assumed that a lack of understanding of basic science and mathematics is the main reason the public can be so easily misled on controversial issues such as global warming. All that is needed, so science educators and campaigners believed, is a general increase in scientific literacy and people would come to more rational conclusions when presented with the facts.

    But new findings published on Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change by researchers taking part in the Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School shows that this is not the case at all. When faced with having to support one side or the other in important science debates, most people are influenced far more by their cultural and social worldviews than by solid science, no matter how well that science is presented. The public, especiallythose well-versed in science and mathematics, will usually agree with the side that comes closest to the values of the “tribe” they most identify with. In many cases, the facts don’t matter at all.



  26. “…most people are influenced far more by their cultural and social worldviews than by solid science, no matter how well that science is presented. The public, especiallythose well-versed in science and mathematics, will usually agree with the side that comes closest to the values of the “tribe” they most identify with. In many cases, the facts don’t matter at all.”

  27. The fact that it has cooled since 2001 has made people skeptical of the chicken littles.

    People are to smart on the whole to be fooled.

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