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The Dirty Art of Character Assassination

By Keith Kloor
Dec 5, 2013 4:19 AMNov 19, 2019 8:35 PM


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In a 2010 editorial, the journal Nature told embattled climate scientists to wise up and "acknowledge that they are in street fight" with their nastiest detractors. At the time, this seemed like a reasonable admonition, since climate scientists were indeed under siege following an illicit disclosure of emails that put the climate science community in an unfavorable light. In truth, climate scientists were already grappling with how to deal with their harshest critics. It's probably safe to say that a few of these scientists are (understandably) embittered by this experience and that several have come to mirror their antagonists. You often see them trading rhetorical blows and insults on Twitter and in climate blogs. It's quite a spectacle. At some point, you have to wonder if the endless sparring will exhaust all the combatants and perhaps run its course. For the sake of climate science, that can't happen soon enough. Meanwhile, the poisonous debate has grown worse, with self-appointed soldiers of the warring sides seeing enemies at every turn. Some of these climate soldiers are always on the lookout, like snipers, eager to take out (or at least undermine) a perceived foe. A case in point happened on Twitter today, when climate blogger Dana Nuccitelli fired this missive:

Tornado experts say @RogerPielkeJr and Richard Muller are misleading the American public http://t.co/QQZd3wFjQz via @LiveScience — Dana Nuccitelli (@dana1981) December 4, 2013

This was news to me, as I'm pretty familiar with Roger's work. So I clicked on Dana's supporting link. It's to an op-ed by six leading tornado experts, including Harold Brooks, who responded:

@RogerPielkeJr@dana1981 Roger's not referenced, just [Richard] Muller. We never even thought about Roger's work in putting that together. — Harold Brooks (@hebrooks87) December 4, 2013

At this point, I asked Dana to clarify which tornado experts claim Roger is "misleading the American public"? He didn't respond. What he did do is move the goalposts. But even that was incorrect, as Brooks quickly pointed out. What happened next was astonishing: Rather than apologize, Dana twisted himself into semantic knots in an effort to show that Roger was in the wrong. I tried asking several more times:

@dana1981, Let me know when you find that tornado expert that says @RogerPielkeJr is misleading the public. — keith kloor (@keithkloor) December 4, 2013

I'll let you know if I hear back. Meanwhile, when chortling climate skeptics jumped into the Twitter fracas, Brooks let them know that he'd also been "misused by the denial side often enough before." So goes another day in the climate wars.

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