Saturday, January 31, 2009

Hansen Derangement Syndrome:
Outbreak of New Strain Reported

As noted here previously, James Hansen was awarded its highest honor by the American Meteorological Society for his climate research and communication. Even a major denialist blog offered congratulations, but an ex-colleague at Capital Weather Gang (formerly inexplicably raised the bizarre question of whether "Science Group Erred Giving Hansen Top Honor". The post is inexplicable, that is, unless it was a crude attempt to get linkage during a season in which the CWG's target age demographic of 12-14 has been mainly out of action as a result of the ongoing Beltway snow drought. DotEarth's Andrew Revkin, whose own cluelessness is frequently on display, took the bait, raising the absurd question, "Can a Scientist Be a Citizen, Too?"

CapitalClimate's comment submitted to Revkin's post is quoted below, but there are other interesting comments, as well as one that is particularly amusing. The anonymity of the signature "wmar" creates some ambiguity, but the incoherence, both linguistically and scientifically, points in the direction of one of our favorite squawk radio meteorologists.

CapitalClimate's comment:
As a degreed meteorologist and member of the AMS for over 45 years, I am very pleased to see the Society take a responsible public position on an issue which has serious and far-reaching consequences to society at large. As a former member for over 3 years of Capital Weather Gang and its predecessor web site (author of PM Update Monday-Friday), I repudiate my ex-colleague's ill-advised comments. Freedman's conflation of "clear communication of climate science in the public arena", one of the stated bases of the award, with politics is naive at best. This is especially baffling in light of the fact that he professes to be a student of climate policy. If he can't understand the difference between communication and partisan politics, he should be looking for a new career field.

Freedman's citing of an extremist view from one of the most biased and widely-discredited climate web sites is even more egregious. The only reasonable explanation is that this is some kind of juvenile attempt to gain approval from corporate taskmasters by promoting the same kind of "mushy middle" that you yourself have been rightly accused of advocating by Joe Romm and others. (I was personally a witness to your firm adherence to that false dichotomy in the face of sharp questioning at the DC MIT club seminar series last year.) It's no surprise that IceCrap has returned the favor by prominently featuring Freedman's post on its own main page.

It's hypocritical to argue that Hansen is not qualified for an award because he is accused of having an agenda by some whose own agenda is highly suspect. (Have you investigated the sources of D'Aleo's funding, for example?) The Rossby Medal is not a popularity contest. Either the work is technically qualifying for recognition or not. Denying the honor as punishment for speaking out in the policy arena is just as wrong as denying certification to meteorologists who are not public advocates. On the other hand, D'Aleo's activity with such organizations as the Fraser Institute is far more overtly political than Hansen's. Should D'Aleo's recognition as Fellow of the AMS be questioned because of his political action? What about Richard Lindzen, an outspoken skeptic in such scientific venues as the Wall Street Journal op-ed page and the Larry King show? Are his Meisinger and Charney Awards from the AMS or AGU Macelwane Medal to be revoked? I don't think so.

1 comment:

Andrew Freedman said...

CapitalClimate: Below is a comment I posted to DotEarth (I was on travel this weekend and unable to log in until now), it touches on some of what you were talking about in your post/comment. Furthermore, it's absolutely ridiculous for you to allege that I wrote that post in order to drum up traffic for's "Capital Weather Gang" blog. You are simply off your rocker on that point, and as usual, much too quick to jump to antagonistic behavior. If I really wanted to drum up attention for the blog, I would just title everything "Naked Women Obama Snowstorm Hurricane." All the best, - Andrew

DotEarth Comment:

Andy, your question has sparked some great discussion. You framed the issue more succinctly than I did in my piece, and it's been fascinating to see the reaction that has ranged from ardent defense of Hansen to individuals who have taken the opportunity to repudiate the views of many climate scientists.

I want to briefly chime in and clarify some of my points. I was not, and am not, advocating that government scientists (and scientists in general, for that matter), should be prohibited from acting as citizens by giving their opinions on policy matters. In fact, many government scientists are supposed to provide policy advice as part of their job description (I'm looking at you EPA, DOE, OSTP etc.). In many cases their views serve to shed a new and important light on significant policy challenges.

However, as you and your readers have pointed out, there is a gray area between providing scientific advice, and undertaking policy or political advocacy as a citizen. Within this gray area there is the significant risk of blurring some of the boundaries between science and politics.

I can't think of anyone in the climate science field who sits more squarely in that gray area than Hansen does. I have a difference of opinion with the reader "Capital Climate." I see many of Hansen's activities, which he is undertaking as a citizen, as overtly political. How else to interpret open letters to different world leaders, and support of peaceful protests of coal fired power plants?

It's understandable that people have a wide range of opinions about him, and about the proper role of scientists working on issues of profound policy relevance, such as global climate change. This is an issue that is going to come up more often as time goes on, with the world facing increasingly tough tasks ahead that all require scientific input in order to solve.

— Andrew Freedman,, Washington, D.C.

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