Debunking the debunkers

AP Photo/British Antarctic Survey, Jim Elliott
This image from March 6, 2008, released by the British Antarctic Survey, shows part of the Wilkins Ice Shelf on the Southwest Antarctic Peninsula as it began to break apart. The ice shelf, about seven times the size of Manhattan began collapsing on Feb. 28, putting an even greater portion of glacial ice at risk, scientists said.

An environmental blog that challenges climate skeptics has discovered that a free-market think tank's list of 500 scientists who oppose the theory of human-caused global warming is more or less bogus.

DeSmogBlog, a Canadian blog that aims to "clear the PR pollution that is clouding the science on climate change," took issue with a list released by the Heartland Institute, a nonprofit research organization based in Chicago.

The list, which you can view by going to this article and then clicking on the Download Full Text (pdf) link at the bottom, purports to name more than 500 "co-authors" whose research indicates that global warming is caused by natural cycles and not fossil fuels.

Last week, DeSmogBlog took the trouble of contacting some of the scientists.

DeSmogBlog manager Kevin Grandia emailed 122 of the scientists yesterday afternoon, calling their attention to the list. So far -- in less than 24 hours -- three dozen of those scientists had responded in outrage, denying that their research supports Avery's conclusions and demanding that their names be removed.

"I am horrified to find my name on such a list. I have spent the last 20 years arguing the opposite," wrote Dr. David Sugden, a professor of geography at University of Edinburgh.

"I'm outraged that they've included me as an 'author' of this report," wrote Dr. John Clague, an earth sciences professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. "I do not share the views expressed in the summary."

The outraged e-mails kept rolling in. Within days DeSmogBlog received six dozen e-mails, and they had contacted only 150 or so of the more than 500 on the list. (DeSmogBlog also discovered that the list included the late Theodor Landscheidt, an astrologer.)

Joseph Bast, Heartland's president and CEO, responded by arguing that the institute is justified in naming the scientists as co-authors.

What motivates the scientists? They have no right -- legally or ethically -- to demand that their names be removed from a bibliography composed by researchers with whom they disagree. Their names probably appear in hundreds or thousands of bibliographies accompanying other articles or in books with which they disagree. Do they plan to sue hundreds or thousands of their colleagues? The proper response is to engage in scholarly debate, not demand imperiously that the other side redact its publications.

Mr. Bast claims that the list is a bibliography, but it includes no publications and clearly identifies the scientists as co-authors. DeSmogBlog's Richard Littlemore takes issue with Bast's definition.

We at the DeSmogBlog have received outraged emails from six dozen of Bast's "co-authors" and we have contacted fewer than 150 out of the 500. They didn't work on this paper; they didn't authorize the use of their names; and they object strenuously to the spin that Avery has put on their legitimate scientific research.
In other words, none of these scientists fit the first definition of "collaborator"....

According to ExxonSecrets, a website run by Greenpeace, the Heartland Institute received $676,500 from ExxonMobil between 1998 and 2006. Heartland used to publicly identify its donors, but now keeps them secret to prevent opponents from "selectively disclosing" donors, a tactic Heartland calls misleading. It says that no corporate donor provides more than 5 percent of Heartland's budget.

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