Attack of the climate skeptics XXII: Imhofe’s last stand

Like most horror movie sequels, this flick is worse and even less plausible than the last. I normally hate to draw attention to this drivel. Unfortunately, the latest supposedly consensus-busting release from US Senator James Imhofe did not go straight to DVD. It received attention from the NY Times, inspired a shouting match on Fox News, granted, that's not much of an accomplishment, and naturally ticked off the blogs (Romm, desmogblog).

Climate change “skepticism” began with an industry-funded effort to question the science. It has since morphed into questioning whether the effects of climate change would really be so bad, a move I call the Smiling Lomborg. The latest salvo by Imhofe is a real throwback, like a greatest hits reunion tour from a band that broke up in the 70s. The report randomly quotes all four hundred people who have ever publicly questioned climate change in an effort to question the existence of a consensus in the scientific community (Eli's posted the list). The band has no new music. The concert just recycles the same old tired mis-hits.

The real deception, here, is the way the members of the 400 club claim expertise on climate change. Here are three of the most common tricks:

1. “An IPCC expert reviewer”: The claim of many a 400 Clubber. It means absolutely nothing. The IPCC reports are public documents. As Tim Lambert pointed out, anyone who asks to see them and considers submitting a comment can call themselves an expert reviewer. Even if you were actually asked to review a section, it still means nothing. On request, I reviewed the corals and climate sections of WGII. That doesn’t mean I can claim the authors had any respect for my review, nor could I claim any responsibility whatsoever for the final report.

2. “Weather expert”. I'm reluctant to pick on this. But the fact is, weather-people or meteorological experts are not climate scientists nor do they have experience with climate models. They have a grounding in basic atmospheric physics similar to many climate scientists but they operate at massively different scales in time and space. This is not a comment on the value of their work, or their expertise, just a reminder that it is different. As a climate person, I know a fair bit about meteorology, but you wouldn’t want me doing your weekend forecast. Vice versa.

3. “Peer-reviewed” scientist: Being a “peer-reviewed” scientist doesn’t make you an expert in every branch of science. I am a peer-reviewed scientist. I regularly publish articles on climate change, biogeochemistry and corals in peer-reviewed journals. You would not turn to me for expertise on protein structures, HIV vaccines, environmental toxicology, mammalian genetics, galaxy formation, nor to build a bridge, design an interplanetary craft or remove your kidney. Freeman Dyson, the eminent physicist in Imhofe’s 400 Club, is no doubt a very brilliant man. One thing he is not, however, is an expert on climate science, something rather evident from reading his quotes on the subject.

Try hard enough, and you could dredge up 400 people with some scientific credentials who would doubt the theory of gravity. Hmm, now that would be a good project.

Consensus is unusual in science. That’s what makes the widespread agreement among the community of experts around the world on the basic science of climate change and climate change impacts so remarkable.

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