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Chris Mooney, hurricanes, and warming the globe

Bad Astronomy
By Phil Plait
Jul 27, 2007 6:25 PMNov 5, 2019 6:57 AM


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Speaking of talks, I also went to a talk by author and blogger Chris Mooney. Chris wrote The Republican War on Science -- the title pretty much explains it all -- and just published his new book Storm World. This new book is a neat juxtaposition of how scientists are researching and arguing over the effects of global warming on hurricanes together with how this is all being done in a political arena as well. I am well into the book right now (my reading life is a bit slow these days with all the writing I have to do) and it's really an excellent story. The history of hurricane research all by itself makes this a fun book, and I know the global warming aspects will be interesting indeed. I know Chris a bit from having met him once a couple of years ago, as well as having some correspondence with him through his blog at Science Blogs (where he gives me a shoutout too). So I was looking forward to the talk very much. The venue was at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, not too far from my new digs. The audience was almost entirely scientists, and even though I knew not a soul there, I was right at home. These were scientists, and they looked like scientists. I could tell they weren't astronomers but still, they were kin (Mrs. BA and I call the ability to spot a scientist in a crowd "nerdar"). Also, I knew this talk would have a different thrust than a public talk, and Chris delivered: he didn't need to discuss the science, and instead talked about how he approached the book, and how scientists need to deal with the media when talking about such contentious issues. Chris is a good speaker, and the talk was interesting and fun. Moreover, two scientists figuring prominently in his book attended; one is a scientist who is very much in the global warming camp, and another, a contrarian named Bill Gray, who thinks global warming is so much hooey. The interplay between them was fascinating to watch. There are similar feuds in astronomy, of course, but this time I could watch without any real investment in my own emotions. There wasn't much interplay, but what there was was interesting: the GW advocate introduced Chris and made some good-natured jabs at Gray, and Gray was able to ask a question and get in his own statements. Interestingly, at the Q&A after the talk, Gray said that a problem in science right now is that scientists are unwilling to speak out against the standard paradigm for fear of losing grant money. Chris countered that when a scientist does speak out, and is shown to be correct, their career is made. Chris was right (he discusses it briefly in his own blog entry), but I think Gray's question was ill-posed. What he says is only true if the scientific paradigm aligns with the government's. I think Gray was arguing the wrong case. The scientific consensus is that global warming is real and that humans are the root cause (no matter what the media -- or, I imagine, several of the commenters on this post -- would have you believe). But very clearly the current Administration admits warming might be real only with extreme reticence, and have fun getting them to admit it might just possibly be anthropogenic. So government sponsored scientists investigating human-caused global warming are fighting within their own paradigm, but against the government's! So practically everyone in that room -- and practically every atmospheric scientist in the country -- shows that Gray's fundamental premise was wrong. Arguing against global warming is fighting the scientific paradigm, but not the governmental one, so their funding (and ability to speak out) is probably not at stake... at least no more than usual in this current antiscience Administration.

Now, I might be wrong-- I don't know how funding is divvied out at NCAR, NOAA, or NASA's Earth Sciences, so I can't be sure that speaking out about anthropogenic GW is bucking the paradigm one way or the other. But I do know that this Administration has done what they can to suppress such dissent, and I know they will continue to do it. Both of Chris's books deal with this topic, and that's why I suggest you read them. Plus-- they're just really good books. Chris signed my copy of the book afterwards, which was neat (that's one of the most dreaded parts of a book tour) and it will sit on my shelf next to his other book, in the honored space reserved for debunking bad science.

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