A Vile, Anti-Science Tactic to be Aware of and Repudiate

April 11th, 2012

There’s a letter being widely posted on conservative blogs:

March 28, 2012
The Honorable Charles Bolden, Jr.
NASA Administrator
NASA Headquarters
Washington, D.C. 20546-0001
Dear Charlie,
We, the undersigned, respectfully request that NASA and the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) refrain from including unproven remarks in public releases and websites. We believe the claims by NASA and GISS, that man-made carbon dioxide is having a catastrophic impact on global climate change are not substantiated, especially when considering thousands of years of empirical data. With hundreds of well-known climate scientists and tens of thousands of other scientists publicly declaring their disbelief in the catastrophic forecasts, coming particularly from the GISS leadership, it is clear that the science is NOT settled.
The unbridled advocacy of CO2 being the major cause of climate change is unbecoming of NASA’s history of making an objective assessment of all available scientific data prior to making decisions or public statements.
As former NASA employees, we feel that NASA’s advocacy of an extreme position, prior to a thorough study of the possible overwhelming impact of natural climate drivers is inappropriate. We request that NASA refrain from including unproven and unsupported remarks in its future releases and websites on this subject. At risk is damage to the exemplary reputation of NASA, NASA’s current or former scientists and employees, and even the reputation of science itself.
For additional information regarding the science behind our concern, we recommend that you contact Harrison Schmitt or Walter Cunningham, or others they can recommend to you.
Thank you for considering this request.
(Attached signatures)
CC: Mr. John Grunsfeld, Associate Administrator for Science
CC: Ass Mr. Chris Scolese, Director, Goddard Space Flight Center
Ref: Letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, dated 3-26-12, regarding a request for NASA to refrain from making unsubstantiated claims that human produced CO2 is having a catastrophic impact on climate change.
/s/ Jack Barneburg, Jack – JSC, Space Shuttle Structures, Engineering Directorate, 34 years
/s/ Larry Bell – JSC, Mgr. Crew Systems Div., Engineering Directorate, 32 years
/s/ Dr. Donald Bogard – JSC, Principal Investigator, Science Directorate, 41 years
/s/ Jerry C. Bostick – JSC, Principal Investigator, Science Directorate, 23 years
/s/ Dr. Phillip K. Chapman – JSC, Scientist – astronaut, 5 years
/s/ Michael F. Collins, JSC, Chief, Flight Design and Dynamics Division, MOD, 41 years
/s/ Dr. Kenneth Cox – JSC, Chief Flight Dynamics Div., Engr. Directorate, 40 years
/s/ Walter Cunningham – JSC, Astronaut, Apollo 7, 8 years
/s/ Dr. Donald M. Curry – JSC, Mgr. Shuttle Leading Edge, Thermal Protection Sys., Engr. Dir., 44 years
/s/ Leroy Day – Hdq. Deputy Director, Space Shuttle Program, 19 years
/s/ Dr. Henry P. Decell, Jr. – JSC, Chief, Theory & Analysis Office, 5 years
/s/Charles F. Deiterich – JSC, Mgr., Flight Operations Integration, MOD, 30 years
/s/ Dr. Harold Doiron – JSC, Chairman, Shuttle Pogo Prevention Panel, 16 years
/s/ Charles Duke – JSC, Astronaut, Apollo 16, 10 years
/s/ Anita Gale
/s/ Grace Germany – JSC, Program Analyst, 35 years
/s/ Ed Gibson – JSC, Astronaut Skylab 4, 14 years
/s/ Richard Gordon – JSC, Astronaut, Gemini Xi, Apollo 12, 9 years
/s/ Gerald C. Griffin – JSC, Apollo Flight Director, and Director of Johnson Space Center, 22 years
/s/ Thomas M. Grubbs – JSC, Chief, Aircraft Maintenance and Engineering Branch, 31 years
/s/ Thomas J. Harmon
/s/ David W. Heath – JSC, Reentry Specialist, MOD, 30 years
/s/ Miguel A. Hernandez, Jr. – JSC, Flight crew training and operations, 3 years
/s/ James R. Roundtree – JSC Branch Chief, 26 years
/s/ Enoch Jones – JSC, Mgr. SE&I, Shuttle Program Office, 26 years
/s/ Dr. Joseph Kerwin – JSC, Astronaut, Skylab 2, Director of Space and Life Sciences, 22 years
/s/ Jack Knight – JSC, Chief, Advanced Operations and Development Division, MOD, 40 years
/s/ Dr. Christopher C. Kraft – JSC, Apollo Flight Director and Director of Johnson Space Center, 24 years
/s/ Paul C. Kramer – JSC, Ass.t for Planning Aeroscience and Flight Mechanics Div., Egr. Dir., 34 years
/s/ Alex (Skip) Larsen
/s/ Dr. Lubert Leger – JSC, Ass’t. Chief Materials Division, Engr. Directorate, 30 years
/s/ Dr. Humbolt C. Mandell – JSC, Mgr. Shuttle Program Control and Advance Programs, 40 years
/s/ Donald K. McCutchen – JSC, Project Engineer – Space Shuttle and ISS Program Offices, 33 years
/s/ Thomas L. (Tom) Moser – Hdq. Dep. Assoc. Admin. & Director, Space Station Program, 28 years
/s/ Dr. George Mueller – Hdq., Assoc. Adm., Office of Space Flight, 6 years
/s/ Tom Ohesorge
/s/ James Peacock – JSC, Apollo and Shuttle Program Office, 21 years
/s/ Richard McFarland – JSC, Mgr. Motion Simulators, 28 years
/s/ Joseph E. Rogers – JSC, Chief, Structures and Dynamics Branch, Engr. Directorate,40 years
/s/ Bernard J. Rosenbaum – JSC, Chief Engineer, Propulsion and Power Division, Engr. Dir., 48 years
/s/ Dr. Harrison (Jack) Schmitt – JSC, Astronaut Apollo 17, 10 years
/s/ Gerard C. Shows – JSC, Asst. Manager, Quality Assurance, 30 years
/s/ Kenneth Suit – JSC, Ass’t Mgr., Systems Integration, Space Shuttle, 37 years
/s/ Robert F. Thompson – JSC, Program Manager, Space Shuttle, 44 years/s/ Frank Van Renesselaer – Hdq., Mgr. Shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters, 15 years
/s/ Dr. James Visentine – JSC Materials Branch, Engineering Directorate, 30 years
/s/ Manfred (Dutch) von Ehrenfried – JSC, Flight Controller; Mercury, Gemini & Apollo, MOD, 10 years
/s/ George Weisskopf – JSC, Avionics Systems Division, Engineering Dir., 40 years
/s/ Al Worden – JSC, Astronaut, Apollo 15, 9 years
/s/ Thomas (Tom) Wysmuller – JSC, Meteorologist, 5 years

So this is an argument from (false) authority. A bunch of NASA astronauts and engineers aren’t exactly qualified to criticize a bunch of NASA climatologists in the subject area of climatology, and it’s kind of shocking that they should do that. I mean, what if some NASA climatologists wrote a letter suggesting that the astronauts should stop claiming that they went to the moon? I mean, how would the astronauts actually “prove” that they did?

And that’s the real vile tactic, one which climate change deniers having been using for years. They try to dress themselves up as skeptics and suggest that climate change isn’t “proven” or that if it’s happening, it hasn’t been “proven” that humans are causing it, and even if humans are causing it, it isn’t “proven” that it’s going to be so bad or as expensive as taking action now.

NASA scientists, and NASA-funded scientists like myself, have been making “unproven remarks” about black holes, dark matter, dark energy, and similar, for years without objections from astronauts. We have a lot of evidence that black holes are real, but we haven’t proven that they’re real. We often make very qualified statements where we bend over backwards to talk about the evidence in support of the existence of black holes as we speak or write about them, rather than assuming they’re real. In some contexts, we assume they’re real because the evidence is really strong.

But we could be wrong. There could be some unknown force that prevents collapse into singularities. If so, NASA scientists have a good chance to be the ones to discover it and rewrite science. Or maybe scientists from somewhere else. And that would be a triumph of science, not something that would ruin the “reputation of science itself.”

Only anti-science types would see it this way.

And it’s not like NASA scientists are the only ones coming up with what isn’t actually a controversial position at all among experts in the field. It will be a failure of climatology generally if they have human-caused climate change so wrong, and there’s little evidence that they’re wrong. There’s a pile of evidence that they’re right in general, and have remaining work to do on the details. There could be an as yet unidentified feedback effect that mitigates the warming. And if there is, climatologists are going to be the ones to find it. Not a bunch of old astronauts and engineers.

What these vile, biased signatories need to do is to make specific complaints about false remarks, or remarks that are not sufficiently qualified or explained, and ask for those to be changed or corrected. I suspect that there are few of these, unless they’re taken completely out of context. Unfortunately biased or unscrupulous people do that all the time.

Here’s NASA’s webpage on the topic of climate change.  Can some one point me to an “unproven remark?”  I don’t see any.  It’s full of clear statements of fact and clearly qualified statements of a less factual nature, with citations.

And that’s what we’re looking at here. These people are suggesting that the climatologists have barked way up the wrong tree and should shut up about it. Look, scientists don’t talk enough about their work or conclusions, and the media barely covers science enough as it is. When a bunch of scientists, a huge bunch of scientists, put together a strong case for something they think is important enough to concern the public, we get folks climbing out of the woodwork to try to shut them up. Some are being paid to shut them up, or throw around lies about their work to get people to doubt it (some of the same people once paid by tobacco companies to cast doubt the link between cigarettes and cancer are now employed to do the same about climate change).

This reminds me of Galileo being asked to refrain from talking about his heliocentric theory of the solar system. He had good evidence, but not proof. The powers that be had their own biased reasons for keeping the status quo, which to them was more important than the free expression of scientific ideas (and good ideas at that!). Now, Galileo is used as an analogy too often by cranks. We’re not talking about cranks. We’re talking about the majority of climatologists and suppression through the use of authority and political power. Not a bad analogy, in this case, in my opinion.

Anyway, next time you see someone suggesting that “proof” is required to make qualified claims about reality, check to see what kind of science they’re trying to cast doubt upon. Science builds a case based on evidence, and it can change with time. That’s a strength of science.

OK, had to get that off my chest. Smart but biased people love this kind of argument because they’d like to believe themselves to be skeptics rather than deniers, but this is an anti-science tactic full of denial, not skepticism.

Finally, let me add this tidbit.  The most outspoken NASA climatologist the letter is probably targeting is James Hansen, who wrote a paper in 1981 with the following summary:

Summary. The global temperature rose by 0.20C between the middle 1960’s and 1980, yielding a warming of 0.4°C in the past century. This temperature increase is consistent with the calculated greenhouse effect due to measured increases of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Variations of volcanic aerosols and possibly solar luminosity appear to be primary causes of observed fluctuations about the mean trend of increasing temperature. It is shown that the anthropogenic carbon dioxide warming should emerge from the noise level of natural climate variability by the end of the century, and there is a high probability of warming in the 1980’s. Potential effects on climate in the 21st century include the creation of drought-prone regions in North America and central Asia as part of a shifting of climatic zones, erosion of the West Antarctic ice sheet with a consequent worldwide rise in sea level, and opening of the fabled Northwest Passage.

Um, that was 30 years ago.   He’s been correct.  He published more detailed models in the late 1980s that haven’t been too far off in the following 25 years.  This is about as good as it gets in science.  The guy predicted everything that’s happened to within reasonable uncertainties and has to deal with arrogant, biased non-experts who want him to shut up because while nature followed his predictions pretty well, his hypothesis is not “proven.”  Vile.


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