The Sciences

Miller-McCune on the Nisbet Climate Report

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyMay 3, 2011 1:07 PM

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I spoke with Emily Badger last week for her piece on Matthew Nisbet's controversial "Climate Shift" report, and I think her story came out quite well. The piece explains that the reason this report was so strongly attacked and criticized is not so much because of its actual contents, but because of what it omits or appears to downplay--perhaps most centrally, right wing attacks on climate science. Thus, the issue is the report's framing--ironically, given that this is what Nisbet studies. And indeed, my biggest problem with the report didn't have anything to do with the most contested topic--alleged money differences between enviros and industry. While I'm very skeptical of Nisbet's analysis on this point, I agree that the cap-and-trade coalition, once it had industry partners like GE and BP, had significant political clout. Instead, my biggest issue is Nisbet's un-nuanced depiction of scientists as partisan and ideological. As Badger puts it:

Nisbet cites data from a 2009 Pew survey of members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, suggesting that membership is “strongly ideological, partisan and like-minded in outlook.” Fifty-two percent of AAAS members surveyed identified themselves as liberal or very liberal, with only 9 percent describing their political views as conservative. But Mooney says that data hardly suggests that scientists — generally timid about political engagement — behave like raging ideologues in the climate debate. “Within that community, introspection is already happening,” Mooney said. “I know it’s happening, I know there’s huge receptivity to asking things like ‘Do scientists understand the public?’ Is this report that Nisbet did going to prompt more of that or is it going to promote defensiveness? I would guess, it depends on whom, but that it would prompt defensiveness in a lot of people. Again, it says ‘you’re partisan and you’re ideological’ — which, technically, everybody is, and his data shows that they are, but it’s going to be taken in the wrong way.”

Yes. Scientists are liberal just as academics are liberal. Big surprise there. That doesn't mean they're not experts, can't be dispassionate, shouldn't be heeded, etc.

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