Humor Pseudoscience Science Skepticism/critical thinking

Global warming skeptics: Punk’d!


Even though I risk bringing back some of the anthropogenic global warming “skeptics” (in reality pseudoskeptics) here, this is too rich not to mention, because it reminds me of how advocates of all stripes of pseudoscience react, particularly advocates of alternative medicine, most of whom wouldn’t recognize a well-designed study if it bit them on the behind. Apparently, Rush Limbaugh and the usual suspects fell for a rather obvious hoax in the form of an online journal article:

Daniel A Klein*, Mandeep J Gupta*, Philip Cooper**, Arne FR Jansson**. Carbon dioxide production by benthic bacteria: the death of manmade global warming theory? Journal of Geoclimatic Studies (2007) 13:3. 223-231.

The article is now gone, as is the website, but the article remains in the Google cache (sans several figures) for the moment, as does the accompanying “editorial.” The hilarious thing is that even I, who haven’t taken calculus in over 20 years, can recognize the equations as total gibberish. Even Ronald Baily at Reason fell for it hook, line, and sinker. What to me is most hilarious is the conclusion:

It was not our intention in researching this issue to disprove manmade global warming theory. We have received no funds, directly or indirectly, from fossil fuel companies and have no personal interest in the outcome of the debate. We simply noticed an anomaly in the figures used by those who accept the “consensus” position on climate change and sought to investigate it. But the findings presented in this paper could not be more damaging to manmade global warming theory or to the thousands of climate scientists who have overlooked – sometimes, we fear, deliberately – the anomaly. We have found a near-perfect match between the levels of carbon dioxide produced by benthic eubacteria and recent global temperature records. By contrast we note what must be obvious to all those who have studied the figures with an open mind: a very poor match between carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels and recent global temperature records.

Moreover we note that there is no possible mechanism by which industrial emissions could have caused the recent temperature increase, as they are two orders of magnitude too small to have exerted an effect of this size. We have no choice but to conclude that the recent increase in global temperatures, which has caused so much disquiet among policy makers, bears no relation to industrial emissions, but is in fact a natural phenomenom.

These findings place us in a difficult position. We feel an obligation to publish, both in the cause of scientific objectivity and to prevent a terrible mistake – with extremely costly implications – from being made by the world’s governments. But we recognise that in doing so, we lay our careers on the line. As we have found in seeking to broach this issue gently with colleagues, and in attempting to publish these findings in other peer-reviewed journals, the “consensus” on climate change is enforced not by fact but by fear. We have been warned, collectively and individually, that in bringing our findings to public attention we are not only likely to be deprived of all future sources of funding, but that we also jeopardise the funding of the departments for which we work.

We believe that academic intimidation of this kind contradicts the spirit of open enquiry in which scientific investigations should be conducted. We deplore the aggressive responses we encountered before our findings were published, and fear the reaction this paper might provoke. But dangerous as these findings are, we feel we have no choice but to publish.

The whole bit about the “consensus” being “enforced by fear, not fact” is a dead giveaway. That’s text right out of the anti-AGW playbook. No reputable journal would allow such prose in the conclusion of an allegedly scientific manuscript.

But if that’s not enough, the accompanying “editorial” has more obvious clues that this is a hoax:

Science, we are led to believe, proceeds by means of open-minded enquiry, motivated by the quest for truth. Any scientific theory is valid only for as long as it resists disproof. Such disproofs, far from being discouraged or resisted, are to be welcomed as the means by which knowledge advances.

This, anyhow, is the story we tell ourselves, at every level of every scientific discipline. Sadly, however, it no longer seems to apply in the field of climate science. It is impossible to overstate the importance of the lead paper published in this edition of our journal. It threatens to overturn the theory to which almost all climate scientists subscribe: that positive radiative forcing (global warming) is largely driven by emissions of carbon dioxide from the combustion of fossil fuels. The paper, by Daniel Klein and colleagues, appears to demonstrate that this is not the case: the process causing global warming is in fact a natural one, which is likely to peak – returning average temperatures to background levels – by the middle of this century.

In any other field a revelation of this importance would be greeted with tremendous interest by scientific colleagues. If corroborated by further investigation it is likely to have been rewarded with the highest scientific honours: it is no exaggeration to state that this is Nobel Prize material. Instead, attempts to publish this paper have been met with fear, hostility and a closing of ranks. Before approaching this journal, Daniel Klein and colleagues sent their paper to 43 peer-reviewed learned publications. All 43 rejected it. In no case could they provide a scientific justification for their decision. The editor of one very eminent journal told Klein and his colleagues that they were “criminally irresponsible” in seeking to have this material published. This is not, we believe, language appropriate to the advance of scientific understanding.

Much as we would like to exaggerate the significance of our own journal, we cannot claim that it ranks alongside the great names that rejected this paper. Though we have always strived to maintain the most rigorous scientific standards, we recognise that Klein and colleagues came to us when better options had failed. Delighted as we are to provide a home for it, we deeply regret that they were unable to publish their paper in a better-known journal.

Suffice it to say that no “real” journal would ever say that a manuscript they publish is “Nobel Prize” material. For one thing, it’s rare to be able to tell at the time of a discovery that it’s Nobel material. For another, scientific decorum and culture preclude it. Even if a person lacks the training in mathematics to recognize the equations in the manuscript as gibberish, the editorial alone gives off more than enough clues to let anyone with a modicum of skepticism in on the joke. As PZ, Russell Seitz, and Kevin Grandia describe, though, many anti-AGW pundits, led by Rush Limbaugh, fell for it hook, line, and sinker.

The Great Beyond at Nature now has a summary and an interview with the still anonymous hoaxster.

Meanwhile at least one of the creduloids taken in by the hoax is whining that the whole incident proves him right all along:

I’ll conclude with this, however. The heart of my previous post dealt with the hostile environment surrounding the global warming debate. Despite the the fact that the paper I used as the lead-in was false, it remains true that global warming advocates have a religious zeal about defending their beliefs on the subject and those who dare disagree are scorned (though, certainly, I or anyone else publishing made up research on purpose or accident should be scorned!). As I’ve stated in the past, I claim no expertise on the science behind the debate, but when the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation announces, just a few months back, that livestock flatulence accounts for close to one-fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions, I suggest there is room for doubt that we’ve got it all figured out.

I’ve left the original post below, feel free to read it for a laugh at my expense!

Will do. I will, however, give him credit for not just deleting his post, as some have done.

The only bad thing about this is that the hoax was revealed a little too soon. It would have been more amusing to see more pundits fall for it. Maybe the equations in the paper should have been a little less gibberish and that a certain other AGW “skeptic” never saw it. Maybe it’ll turn up in his act.

ADDENDUM: At least one of the hoaxsters has apparently revealed himself.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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