Be careful what you read! CO2 debate rolls on…

I have posted on here before how the peer review and research field operates. Peer review is a vital part of scientific progress and growth. More importantly, peer review is what makes the scientific method and scientific community self governing.

In my last global warming post, Papa Don argued with me about the role of CO2 in the atmosphere, and in his last comment, referred me to a large petition and website that took the stand that rising CO2 levels are not bad. ALWAYS CHECK THE BACKGROUND OF YOUR SOURCES!!!

This is a dangerous problem with media outlets like newspapers and TV news. In the scientific world, not checking the validity of your source means it will not make it through the peer review process, and in extreme cases can spell the end of your scientific career. Unfortunately Don has chosen to use a source he may not have know the full background of…

Don’s source is a petition created by Arthur B. Robinson, who indeed was credited in the discovery of carbon 14, and a revered student of Linus Pauling (though they later had one hell of a falling out). Robinson ‘publishes’ and works out of an organization he founded called the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (OISM). The OISM produced a petition in 1999 with the following text (source: here)

“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.”

In addition to the petition, Robinson wrote and ‘published’ an article on the site (stating that it is peer reviewed), and there is a letter from the former head of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), Frederick Seitz (he retired from that post in 1960).

There are several things awry with this source, and I feel that it is very important that I illuminate those things, so Papa Don and I can continue our argument with proper scientific information and sources.

First, the OISM claims that the petition “knocks the wind out of the enviro’s sails” with its 17,000+ signatures of scientists who “declare that global warming is a lie with no scientific basis whatsoever.” The petition statement says nothing about global warming. The petition statement only refers to disagreeing with the Kyoto agreement (which most climate scientists disagree with…but that’s for another post), and that CO2 and other greenhouse gasses will not lead to “catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate.” This source is already on its way to trouble, because it is trying to link one thing said (e. g. catastrophic warming) to anthropogenic climate warming. No one researching man-made global warming is trying to say there will be a huge climate shattering change, just that we are warming up, and that it is likely due to increased CO2 emissions, etc.

Second, the ‘peer reviewed’ paper presented with the petition has some real problems. This is NOT a peer reviewed article, even though the OISM website says to the contrary. Primary author Robinson published it independently. The worst part, is that he formatted the article to look JUST LIKE an NAS publication report. In fact, when the article and petition were mailed out to the scientific community, several NAS researchers contacted the head of the NAS, asking if the Academy had taken an official stance on the Kyoto Treaty. The NAS released a blunt response:

“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.”

Since that quote, Robinson did get the article published as a REVIEW in the Journal Climate Research (Soon et al. 1999). Reviews are NOT peer reviewed, even though they may be in a peer reviewed journal. Generally reviews are opinion pieces, newsletters, or ed-op book reviews of new texts in the discipline. They are not rigorously reviewed by researchers in the field of question.

Third, let’s consider the authors of the original paper. Robinson was a biochemist, and has no training in climate or atmospheric sciences. Sallie Baliunas and Willie Soon are both astrophysicists, and Zachary Robinson is Art’s 22 year old son. Hardly experts in climate science. Ironically, the paper they present carries about as much weight as my writings in this blog: for entertainment purposes only.

Fourth, the petition itself is mortally flawed. Original signers were found using a huge mail out of unknown proportion (Robinson and the OISM refuses to say how big of a mail out, claiming that they don’t want critics to use the number against them). Also, the petition signers were self reported scientists. Though the OISM website says that 17,800 signers have been independently verified, several critics have shown many egregious errors in the list (source: here):

  • The petitioners could submit responses only by physical mail, not electronic mail, to limit fraud. Older signatures submitted via the web were not removed. The verification of the scientists is listed at 95%, but the means by which this verification was done is not specified.
  • Signatories to the petition were requested to list an academic degree; 86% did list a degree. The petition sponsors stated that approximately two thirds held higher degrees, but provided no details confirming this claim.
  • Petitioners were also requested to list their academic discipline. The petition sponsors state that 2,660 scientists were trained in physical or environmental sciences (physics, geophysics, climatology, meteorology, oceanography, or environmental science) while 25% were trained in chemistry, biochemistry, biology, or other life sciences.
  • The Petition Project itself avoided any funding or association with the energy industries. A few of the scientists who signed the petition are affiliated with organizations funded by groups such as Exxon or the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Myron Ebell and the Cooler Heads Coalition’s Patrick Michaels.”

As indicated on the page from which the above except originated, the Scientific American also did an analysis of the signatures in 2005 (link to the original article):

“Scientific American took a sample of 30 of the 1,400 signatories claiming to hold a Ph.D. in a climate-related science. Of the 26 we were able to identify in various databases, 11 said they still agreed with the petition —- one was an active climate researcher, two others had relevant expertise, and eight signed based on an informal evaluation. Six said they would not sign the petition today, three did not remember any such petition, one had died, and five did not answer repeated messages. Crudely extrapolating, the petition supporters include a core of about 200 climate researchers – a respectable number, though rather a small fraction of the climatological community.”

Scarier yet, though admittedly an ad hominem attack, I think it is important to look a little deeper into the people who wrote the petition and what they stand for/support/believe:

Robinson had a falling out with Pauling by refuting his work on Vitamin C, Linus forced him to resign and Robinson sued for $64 million, settled out of court for half a million and started the OISM. OISM work started in civil defense and weapons research (remember, Robinson is a biochemist…), and even produced a guide to surviving nuclear war. Robinson home schooled his children and produced a large CD set of material (mostly public domain…read free) to teach various subjects intended to “[t]each your children to teach themselves and to acquire superior knowledge as did many of America’s most outstanding citizens in the days before socialism in education” (my emphasis). The set sells for $195.00 and is available here. Robinson is also a fundamentalist Christian, and runs a online group linked to his home school curriculum called RobinsonUsers4Christ claiming to be for “…Bible and Trinity-believing, God-fearing, “Jesus-Plus-Nothing-Else” Christian families using or investigating the Robinson Curriculum.” Robinson is a nut job in my opinion.

I can keep going, but I am just tired of reading the website and seeing such nonsensical views. I reject this source as anything but non sense, and I feel I am right in doing so. There are much better sources out there that suggest more realistic, and worth considering arguments against anthropogenic global warming trends.

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9 responses to “Be careful what you read! CO2 debate rolls on…

  1. OOOOWWWWWWW!!!!!!!! LOL

  2. I’ll try and do better on the next one.

  3. When I got up and reread this post this morning, it sounded a lot harsher than I meant it to be. I was not trying to upset or ruffle any feathers, just address the argument. I guess all this having to rationalize every little thing in my thesis has got me a little edgy…sorry about that Papa Don!

  4. It takes a lot more than that to hurt my feelings! I’ve been chewed out by professionals. (They don’t chew it out. They chew around it and let it drop out.) A little humor there.

    But getting back to the debate – I have looked high and low for any reference that says CO2 leads temperature. I even went to Google and searched for the words “CO2 leads temperature”, and it only took me to sites that said “temperature leads CO2”. The only source that I know of that says “CO2 leads temperature” is Al Gore’s infamous “hockey stick” chart. And you are telling me who is and is not qualified to talk about climate!!

  5. Good, I’m glad you’re still in the game. The CO2 lagging is an issue I’ll try to tackle in the next post. If I have my way, you’ll be a convert in no time (or at least amenable to the other side of the argument) 😉

  6. You’ll never do it by throwing numbers at me. I need to see examples from observations in real life to be convinced.

  7. I have another thought: Since water vapor is a much more powerful heat “reflector” than CO2, why aren’t we worrried about the increase in water vapor that necessarily comes with an increase in global temperature? And since we know it wasn’t anthropogenic CO2 that brought us out of the Little Ice Age, could it have been water vapor? I know we have several monitoring stations around the world watching the levels of CO2, but are any records being kept on the humidity?

    In your previous posting you presented a chart showing that CO2 only reflects 12% of the total reflected energy. Cloud cover and water vapor reflects about 64% if I read the chart right. I’m honestly not being flippant, but am I missing something?

  8. “Robinson is a nut job in my opinion.”

    Solid analysis, methinks.

    And FTR, you’re essentially responding to an ad hominum argument with another one – i.e., they said “we’re right because scientists say so” – and you’re replying, “those aren’t scientists, they’re wack jobs.” So I think you’re in the clear; you’re just refuting what little argument they’re making.

  9. I’m not saying they are nut jobs or whackos. I’m saying they are looking at their own little areas of interest, and not looking at the whole picture. Instead of looking at the group of trees as a forest, they’re looking at each individual tree seperately.

    When the air warms up, it holds more water vapor, and produces more clouds along with the increase in CO2 from the ocean warming. Since the clouds and water vapor account for 64% of the green house affect, why are we worried about the CO2 which only accounts for 12%? And since the CO2 didn’t start the present warming trend, the increased levels appear to be a result, rather than a cause.
    I think the people who are pushing the CO2 scare are holding stock in corn futures. They want us to use corn to make ethanol to cut down on anthropogenic CO2, even though corn is one of the least efficient plants to use for this purpose. Something just isn’t making sense in all of this.

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