We have completed maintenance on DiscoverMagazine.com and action may be required on your account. Learn More

The Joe Romm Treatment

By Keith Kloor
Feb 16, 2011 4:15 AMNov 20, 2019 4:02 AM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

A fierce debate on the merits of energy efficiency, triggered last month by David Owen's article in The New Yorker, has perhaps entered an ugly phase today, with this post by Joe Romm. And that's too bad, because the thorny questions raised in Owen's piece deserve to be judged on the basis of reasoned argument. On that note, let me say that part two of this post (tomorrow) will discuss the broad outlines of the current debate. For the moment, I'm going to focus directly on the style of argument waged by Romm in his post today, because he has a large, devoted following and has the ear of influential pundits in the media. I'm just going to ask a few simple questions. Romm fans are invited to respond and maybe Joe will stop by himself, as he is wont to do from time to time. So my first questionis: Does Romm's latest bashing of The Breakthrough Institute (TBI) qualify as an "attack"? I'm asking because in his post, Romm says that TBI recently

launched a major attack on energy efficiency.

Romm then explains how TBI has waged this "major attack":

They used talking points that right-wing think tanks have pushed for years (see The intellectual bankruptcy of conservatism: Heritage even opposes energy efficiency). This shouldn't be terribly surprising to longtime followers of TBI. After all, last year they partnered with a right-wing think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, to push right-wing energy myths and attack the most basic of clean energy policies, a clean energy standard.

Second question: Is there a term for this style of argument? (Oh, one other thing--that partnership also included the Brookings Institution.) Romm's methodology continues in the same vein:

This year, Breakthrough's attacks on clean energy were used by the Republican National Committee as part of their overall attack on Obama's clean energy agenda. Again, not a big surprise. TBI's work is consistently cited by those who want to attack environmentalists and climate scientists, "George Will embraces the anti-environmentalism "” and anti-environment "” message of The Breakthrough Institute."

Third question: is there a term for this style of argument? Romm's critique (this is just a critique, right, not an attack?) continues:

Yes, I know, The Breakthrough Institute will insist it's purely a coincidence that they are the darling of the anti-science, pro-pollution right-wing disinformers. The fact that they push right wing myths and even partner with right-wing organizations to push those myths has nothing to do with it. Nor does the fact that they spent the past two years dedicating the resources of their organization to help kill prospects for climate and clean energy action "” and to spread disinformation about Obama, Gore, Congressional leaders, Waxman and Markey, leading climate scientists, Al Gore again, the entire environmental community and anyone else trying to end our status quo energy policies (see "Debunking Breakthrough Institute's attacks on Obama, Gore, Waxman, top climate scientists, progressives, and environmentalists"). Nor does the fact that they even attacked Rachel Carson, who died decades ago after helping launch the modern environmental movement!

Fourth question: is there a term for this style of argument? BTW, in case you were wondering, Romm helpfully tells us that

some in the media have started to see through this shtick. For an excellent debunking by the media of a typically flawed TBI analysis attacking the clean energy bill, see Markey spokesman: "The Breakthrough Institute seems to believe, much as the Bush administration did, that technology will solve all, even without a market."

The link is to a 2009 Romm post that references a single Greenwire story of the same year, that coincidentally, heavily quotes Romm. It's also worth mentioning that this citation, like all the previous supporting links offered by Romm, are to his own posts.) In conclusion, Romm reminds us that he's "debunked" TBI multiple times in 2008 and 2009 and that

I have mostly ignored the nonstop disinformation coming from TBI founders Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, as well as TBI's Jesse Jenkins, for as long as possible.

Fifth question: Is there a term for this style of argument? Finally, Romm explains that he can no longer "ignore" the "confusion" TBI is trying to spread. Last question: was his post an "attack"?

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.