Sen. James M. Inhofe once famously called global warming the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." It's a deliciously concise phrase so well said, in fact, that it demands repeating, because it is so sure of itself, and so wrong.
In the delirious tradition of American conspiracy theories (like that old farce, the Apollo 11 moon landing) Inhofe backs up categorical declarations with voluminous documentation.
Inhofe's latest claim is that "Over 400 prominent scientists from more than two dozen countries recently voiced significant objections to major aspects of the so-called 'consensus' on man-made global warming." It's a claim backed up by honest-to-goodness research, of the cut-and-paste kind.
Like any conspiracy theory, the sheer magnitude of the effort lends it a first-blush air of credibility. And, like any conspiracy theory, it just doesn't hold up under scrutiny.
But it takes a Hercules up to 12 labors-worth of boredom to prove it. Our Hercules is Mark V. Johnson, who works for AOL's Propeller.com. He endured 413 labors, one for each supposed expert on Inhofe's list, so you wouldn't have to.
He combed through university profiles, oil money think tank rosters, news stories and the now-robust literature of climate skeptic debunking. He couldn't identify every name, and we'll say at the outset that there may well be a handful of skeptics on this list with legitimate knowledge of climate science who question some aspect of the theory. It is, however, useful to remember that a theory, in science, is as good as gold (lest we start doubting something so incredible as the theory of gravity).
Here's a quick breakdown of Johnson's findings:
Inhofe's list includes 413 people. (Score one Inhofe; the math holds up.)
84 have either taken money from, or are connected to, fossil fuel industries, or think tanks started by those industries.
49 are retired
44 are television weathermen
20 are economists
70 have no apparent expertise in climate science
Several supposed skeptics have publicly stated that they are very concerned about global warming, and support efforts to address it. One claims he was duped into signing the list and regrets it.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, here are some concessions and explanations:
Taking money from companies that have an established stake in burning fossil fuels doesn't mean your science is junk, but it ought to sound alarm bells for anyone aiming for the label of "skeptic."
Being retired doesn't mean you've lost your smarts, but it does make it harder to be considered "prominent" on a cutting-edge issue.
Weathermen help us navigate the vagaries of weather on a local level every day, but this isn't a discipline that requires forecasting world climate conditions decades from now. (Prominent? In one sense: They are more frequently seen and heard.)
Economists, clearly, are valuable participants in policy debates. Clearly, they aren't climate scientists.
Finally, we could line up 59 regular people (hi Mom!) who don't have any particular expertise in climate science, but believe adamantly in it. You wouldn't care what they think.
Here is our conclusion: Any list with that much "filler" ought to raise the hair on any skeptic's neck.
Science is the only discipline built on skepticism. It's the job of every scientist to question, and test, his or her own conclusions, and those of colleagues.
The whole fact Inhofe was trying to debunk that there is a broad consensus among scientists that global warming is real, caused by humans and a serious threat was only articulated because of hoaxes perpetrated by the so-called skeptics on this list. (Why not assume Inhofe found them all?) By undermining the press and politicians on the issue, those global warming skeptics helped keep the problem from being recognized, let alone addressed, for years. One could say they stood squarely in the path of truth, and thwarted its progress, jujitsu-style, until finally being overrun by a triumphantly emboldened mass.
If you hunger for lists of skeptics the scientific kind with true expertise we have some recommendations.
For instance, the American Geophysical Union, which includes 50,000 earth, ocean and atmospheric scientists, among others, whose first mission is to value the scientific method (rational skepticism), has stated since 2003 that "Human activities are increasingly altering the Earth's climate. These effects add to natural influences that have been present over Earth's history. Scientific evidence strongly indicates that natural influences cannot explain the rapid increase in global near-surface temperatures observed during the second half of the 20th century. ... The unprecedented increases in greenhouse gas concentrations, together with other human influences on climate over the past century and those anticipated for the future, constitute a real basis for concern."
And if you, like Inhofe, value international expertise, consider the Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change. By some estimates, 2,000 scientists have participated. Their sole purpose is to state consensus about global warming, humankind's role in causing it and its likely effects. The panel spoke clearly last year that it is nearly certain that human pollution is making the climate warmer, and that it will have dire consequences around the world.
A good online resource for information on global warming and the wars over science information is DeSmogBlog.
The best thing about Inhofe's latest hoax is that so few people paid it any mind, outside of his allies in the conspiracy theory blogosphere. Thankfully, the senator's best hoaxes are behind him. And thanks to Johnson, we can all peer right up this tired old magician's sleeves.
(View our detailed breakdown of the list here.)
Why is it conspiracy theories are so often presented with text formatting befitting a ransom note?
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.