Why don’t you write about __________?

November 27th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Over the past week I have received the following two juxtaposed comments about what we focus on here at Prometheus. They are pretty typical of the sort of comments that I have received in the past, hence this response.

What still amazes me is that you can so clearly see [misrepresentations in policy arguments] going on in the area of your expertise and seemingly not recognize the same mischief in other areas of the science, from glaciers to solar variability. If the same people get it so terribly wrong here, why not there?

And also:

Why do you attack [Al Gore] on your site but not climate change deniers Fred Singer or Pat Michaels? Perhaps this tells us something about your own biases. Al Gore may have made a few mistakes but he is far more accurate than the oil industry shills that you seem to conveniently overlook.

Question: Why don’t I write about glaciers, solar variability, Fred Singer, or Pat Michaels?

Answer: I don’t know anything special about glaciers, solar variability, or the issues which are often discussed by Fred Singer or Pat Michaels. By contrast, I do know something about disasters and climate change. In fact, I know a lot, perhaps as much as only a few dozen people.

On disasters and climate change I can speak with authority, because I know the literature deeply and I have conducted a wide range of original studies in this area. When I am asked to comment on other topics my expertise drops off – precipitously. By commenting on these issues I would in effect simply be witnessing to who it is that I trust. So instead of offering inexpert commentary (which can be found in abundance elsewhere on blogs) we often rely on solicited and unsolicited guest weblogs, such as provided by Richard Tol on the Stern Report, and we sometimes invite competing perspectives to share their views here, as we did last year on the policy significance of the “hockey stick” debate. We are also have discussed plans for turning Prometheus into a more consistently multi-authored site with a range of expertise and perspectives on tap.

So lets cut to the chase — do I trust those wacked alarmists or those nefarious skeptics? By answering this question, some might think, it would be far easier to classify me in a tribal category – “is he with us, or them”?

Truth is, based on my front-row seat view of the science of climate change, I don’t much trust the alarmists or the skeptics and by this I mean both (a) those political advocates couching their arguments in terms of science and (b) those scientists who have taken on the role of political advocates. I have been for many years convinced based on my own academic training and a “dinner table” degree in aspects of climate science that we should indeed be concerned about greenhouse gas emissions and other human influences on climate. But what I have also observed in my years inside the climate community is that it is deeply politicized throughout. This doesn’t mean that we need not be concerned about the human effects on climate. But what it does mean is that we need to take far more care with the relationship of climate science and climate policy, a responsibility that I believe requires the attention of the scientific community.

Question: Who is it then that I do trust?

Answer: Well, many of the non-skeptic heretics. And you should too. When the politics of climate change settles out over coming years and decades, these are the folks whose intellectual policy arguments will be left standing.

Meantime, if you are in fact looking for commentary from me on issues of climate change outside my own expertise, there will undoubtedly continue to be a few such musings that slip through on occasion – such is the nature of blogs. But for the most part (on climate change at least) I plan on generally sticking to what I know. Some of you may wish to see a political signal in this focus (as the two commenters that I opened with did, ironically enough in diffeent directions), which is perhaps unavoidable. As far as those of you interested in my own political leanings, here you go.

5 Responses to “Why don’t you write about __________?”

  1. jfleck Says:

    Roger -

    You’ve entered a space that journalists have long occupied. People with strong biases about a subject look to you for confirmation of those biases, and see it as a failing on your part when you don’t point out what is, to them, obvious. Your blog has acquired the additional characteristic (also common to mainstream media publications) of being viewed by some readers as something of a commons, with the additional expectations that readers feel comfortable telling you what you ought to do here.

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  3. hank Says:

    There are parallels worth considering. To do this sort of research you could invite people in with a more broad expertise in policy analysis at the level of studying tactics rather than climatology per se, I think. This struck me as an interesting parallel:


    Methods: …. depositions and trial testimony transcripts … made by expert witnesses representing the tobacco industry …. Industry-supported publications within the peer-reviewed literature were also examined for statements on exposure misclassification, meta-analysis, and confounding.

    Results: The witnesses challenged causation …. by citing limitations of epidemiologic research, raising methodological and statistical issues, and disputing biological plausibility. Though not often cited directly by the witnesses, the defence tactics mirrored the strategies used in industry-funded reports in the peer-reviewed literature.

    This sort of research on the tactics used to influence public policy would be particularly interesting , when the same people apply the same tactics for, say, Western Fuels as they did for their previous industrial sponsor.

    It’s early yet — you won’t have exact parallels to the tobacco court cases to look at. But I think you’d find it interesting.

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  5. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:


    Thanks. Your comments go a long ways to explaining the dynamics I have observed that motivated this post!

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  7. coby Says:

    Fair enough points, Roger, and it is a rare virtue to refrain from opining beyond your areas of expertise.

    I don’t think I recall reading any criticism of William Gray though, and he cleary misrepresents the natural vs anthropogenic hurricane intensity debate and you seem well versed in that area.

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  9. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:


    On William Gray:


    Gray is definitely a partisan in the hurricane-climate debate and he (and others) have gone over-the-top in some of their public comments to be certain. I’d much prefer a more civil debate. For my views on this debate see:


    Gray does however correctly represent the role of societal factors in damage trends in all that I’ve seen.

    As far as his views on global warming generally, he is clearly outside of the mainstream in his views, and others are more qualified than I to critique these views.