04 March 2008

Hot Air from the “Heartland”

Today's New York Times ran a report by Andrew C. Revkin on the Heartland Institute's conference in New York, trying to refute the idea of global warming, or human-caused global warming, or harmful human-caused global warming, or any scientific notion that might press people in industrialized nations to change their behavior.

The Heartland Institute has been running ads in the Times and other newspapers for years, seeking attention for an online petition that supposedly shows 19,000 scientists expressing doubt about the mainstream theories of global warming.

The petition was actually initiated by the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, founded in 1980 by biochemist Arthur Robinson. The OISM has since grown to have one full-time employee--Arthur Robinson--and to promote positions on scientific questions well beyond the bounds of biochemistry.

The petition started circulating in 1998, along with an article Robinson and his young son coauthored and had typeset in the style of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences even though it had not been published in any peer-reviewed scientific journal. The petition has proven equally dubious, as Sourcewatch reports:

The names of the signers are available on the OISM's website, but without listing any institutional affiliations or even city of residence, making it very difficult to determine their credentials or even whether they exist at all. When the Oregon Petition first circulated, in fact, environmental activists successfully added the names of several fictional characters and celebrities to the list, including John Grisham, Michael J. Fox, Drs. Frank Burns, B. J. Honeycutt, and Benjamin Pierce (from the TV show M*A*S*H), an individual by the name of "Dr. Red Wine," and Geraldine Halliwell, formerly known as pop singer Ginger Spice of the Spice Girls.
Given that criticism, you might think the Heartland Institute (which has much more money than the OISM) would be careful about vetting the data in the petition--especially when it presents itself as a source of scientifically rigorous information. Yet it actually designed and paid for ads that display duplicate names, as this scanned snippet shows.

Joe R. Eagleman is one of the relatively few names on the list who has credentials in climate science; he's a professor emeritus at the University of Kansas who has written books on meteorology. (He's also a creationist.) But does anyone think that "Dr. Joe R. Eagleman, PhD" and "Joe R. Eagleman, PhD" are two different scientists?

The two Eaglemans aren't the only anomaly in that snippet. The name of Charles R. Cabiac also appears twice. He's currently an adjunct lecturer in Physical Sciences at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Cabiac has no apparent connection to climatology, but he does seem to qualify as a "scientist." But can he qualify as two scientists?

"Kennon Earle" appears nowhere on the internet but in this petition and as "the current nom de plume" of someone who shares poetry and other writings online.

Obviously, the Heartland Institute didn't bother to read over the signers' names, much less confirm their identities--even when preparing an ad meant to convince the public. But perhaps it simply wanted to grab the attention of potential donors who already share its position.

Puffing the number of scientists skeptical of climate change--and not even doing that in a convincing manner--seems to be standard procedure for the Heartland Institute. The Times article starts out by noting that "hundreds of people" attended the New York conference. How many of them were scientists? The article ends:
The meeting was largely framed around science, but after the luncheon, when an organizer made an announcement asking all of the scientists in the large hall to move to the front for a group picture, 19 men did so.


Anonymous said...

O.K. its 18,996 signatures not 19,000. I guess we should all go home now.

J. L. Bell said...

Obviously, anonymous, you're not a scientific thinker. When a cursory examination of sixteen signatures implies that there are actually only thirteen people involved, that's a drop of 19%. If this sample is typical of the whole, then the petition has garnered less than 16,000 signatures, not "18,996."

As I stated in the posting, the Heartland Institute is trying to portray itself as presenting accurate scientific information. But even in the data that it's prepared for public consumption, at considerable expense, it made obvious errors and overstated its case.

That should raise doubts in any open mind.

Anonymous said...

why is it not strange that a lover of fantasy would be a global-warming-will-kill-us-all, al gore bicycle-seat sniffing climate alarmist? this argument is sooo yesterday. with the price of gas climbing to $5 a gallon and higher, your addle-brained attempts to push it even higher will get you beaten up in America. And it should!

J. L. Bell said...

Thank you, petepeters, for demonstrating so clearly how your position is fueled by nothing but hot air and hatred.

Anonymous said...

The OISM has now come up with a whole mesh of excuses for the duplicate names on the Oregon Petition. In response, I'm now pushing another petition, the Mars Proclamation.

-- bi, International Journal of Inactivism