A Response to Popular Ad Hominem, err Science, Magazine on Global Warming Skeptics

My new column is up this week, and is a response to the July 2012 issue of Popular Science which includes a long, unbalanced attack on skeptics, without once addressing their scientific arguments.

I thought I knew what “science” was about:  the crafting of hypotheses that could be tested and refined through observation via studies that were challenged and replicated by the broader community until the hypothesis is generally accepted or rejected by the broader community.

But apparently “popular science” works differently, if the July 2012 article by Tom Clynes in the periodical of that name is any guide [I will link the article when it is online].  In an article called “the Battle,” Clynes serves up an amazing skewering of skeptics that the most extreme environmental group might have blushed at publishing.  After reading this article, it seems that “popular science” consists mainly of initiating a sufficient number of ad hominem attacks against those with whom one disagrees such that one is no longer required to even answer their scientific criticisms.

The article is a sort of hall-of-fame of every ad hominem attack made on skeptics – tobacco lawyers, Holocaust Deniers, the Flat Earth Society, oil company funding, and the Koch Brothers all make an appearance.

Thousands of words about critical issues like Heartland Institute's funding, but less than two dozen dedicated to dismissing skeptic's scientific concerns.  And that is before we get to outright journalistic fraud, as the author attempts, for example, to lay blame for Obama Administration financial audits of climate scientists on, you guessed it, skeptics. Read it all


  1. rpb:

    I remember playing with a model in David Archers' climate change at University of Chicago. Basically, you could change inputs of albedo, GHGs, solar intensity, etc. I remember thinking if the model was inverted to reflect an ice age climate scenario you'd essentially see the planet frozen solid (or already super hot).

  2. Sean:

    There is a real danger here. A lot of people love science but when attacks like this come along, it diminishes the entire enterprise. Tom Clynes is a photo-journalist specializing in environmental issues so he's not a scientist, he's writing an opinion piece. With science being wrapped up tightly into the politics of climate change, I fear there will be a rejection of science along with the politics and even of journalism. People who do publications, even technical ones, are editors and journalists who just dabble in the science of things, particularly if it validates their politics. If liberal orthodoxy gets a drubbing in the next election, the normal bi-partisan support for science and technology may evaporate.

  3. Hunt Johnsen:

    "Popular Mechanics" is now the closest thing to what "Scientific American" used to be, before they went off the track over global warming. "Popular Science" is more like "Amazing Stories" of the thirties and forties - amazing but no science to speak of. Sad.

  4. bradley13:

    You might want to have a word with Forbes. I find it really, really annoying that links in your article are turned into links that go to random company web-sites. I thought the links were something relevant to your article, but the "Popular" from "Popular Science" is a link to "Popular, Inc. (Popular) is a diversified, publicly owned bank holding company." and "Next" in your final paragraph is a link to "Next plc is a United Kingdom based retailer offering products in clothing, footwear, accessories and home products."

  5. IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States:

    Yeah, PopSci is not what I'd call a particularly reliable publication any more. The libtards running it have absolutely no idea what science IS.

    A piece last January about tornadoes and extreme weather ("Did Global Warming Destroy My Hometown?") pretty much made the bald-faced claim that "Determining whether climate change caused, or even worsened, an individual tornado seems to be beyond the epistemological limits of science. But if it’s impossible to prove causation, it’s easy to see a disturbing correlation."

    As anyone really familiar with science knows, "correlation is not causation" So claiming there's a correlation is beside the point, even if there WAS a correlation, which actually doesn't exist if you really look at the actual weather record (they post up a specially bowdlerized record). There's been no substantial increase in extreme weather in the last 2-3 decades. There's been an increase in sightings of low-grade tornadoes, but that can easily be attributed to the increase in spotting capability in the same time frame.

    He also openly blows off the ClimateGate scandal with this hoary lie: "Recall that the university where Andrew Watson works was implicated, and then vindicated, in the phony scandal called Climategate, in which skeptics used out-of-context bits from stolen e-mails to make it sound as if researchers were engaged in some great conspiracy. "

    Unless you'd actually read the e-mails, how would you know?

    Popsci editors have their heads stuck so far up the Green movement's rectum that they make casual Greenpeace supporters look like rabid polluters armed with unlabeled barrels of dioxin.

    I've thought about writing a piece for Carl over at No Oil For Pacifists on how bad they are. Your example and the one I've just commented on are hardly atypical. Pretty much every month there's a new piece of BS in them that pushes the AGW Agenda.

    And yeah, Sean, that's part of the purpose, to confuse the layman about what science IS (they certainly didn't learn the correct answer in SCHOOL) and give them the impression that science is unreliable. This flies in the face of all the freaking magic surrounding them -- planes flying at 600 mph, a prototype Star Trek Tricorder in everyone's pocket (i.e., smartphones§), and instantaneous access to almost the entire base of knowledge and entertainment of all mankind practically anywhere on earth in the hands of ... just about anyone who wants/needs it.

    § I have no idea about yours, but mine can also act as a spirit level, an inclinometer, detect magnetic fields, scan barcodes, act as a speedometer, a GPS unit with full mapping capabilities, play video, record video, access the computer data banks of "Spaceship Earth" (i.e., the internet), and RECOGNIZE SONGS played in my vicinity... if that's not a prototype for ST's "Tricorder" concept I dunno what is... and only 200 years EARLY.

    Science works, and spectacularly -- but the average laymen is subject to Clarke's Dictum with regards to it. They REALLY can't tell the difference, which leads to magical thinking about it.

  6. A Friend:

    Such a shame. The same writer had a great piece about a kid experimenting with nuclear reactions just recently. This piece was awful.