When it comes to open debate, courtesy and dialogue, you can apparently forget about climate change. The posse has come for Steven Koonin and done hung him high. They being the usual suspects en masse, a dozen enforcers with Naomi Oreskes and Michael Mann galloping at the head. But as was said of U.S. President Grover Cleveland, “We love him for the enemies he has made.” Imagine having this whole crowd show up and try to stop you from reading your book with insults like “How many people are suffering, and paying in health care costs because of fossil fuels isn’t the kind of thing Steve Koonin thinks you should worry about, though. That’s because his argument in 2021 is as scientifically empty as it was in 2013”. It’s not even clear how they would know because, as Koonin pointed out, they seem only to have read the Wall St. Journal review of his book, not the book itself. And when they finally condescend to offer argument not abuse, they mangle his claims. But then, lynch law never was real law.
As noted last week, Koonin is a big boy, he knew what was coming and he was braced for it. His response to the Climate Legion of Doom item in Scientific American began in the following admirably robust manner: “Scientific American has published a criticism of me and my recent book, Unsettled. Most of that article’s 1,000 words are scurrilous ad hominem and guilt-by-association aspersions from the twelve co-authors. Only three scientific criticisms are buried within their spluttering; here is my response to each them.”
Even those criticisms, after emptying several buckets of mud onto his head, contain a fair bit more of the stuff: “When it comes to the science, Koonin cherry-picks and misrepresents outdated material to downplay the seriousness of the climate crisis.” Boo! Bad Koonin! Bad motives! And since he can speak for himself, we won’t quote the details of his refutation. You can read it even if you do not subscribe to Scientific American, which wouldn’t help since, in the interest of stifling debate and enforcing orthodoxy, they refused to print his reply. Although they were happy to publish a critique that ends “Koonin isn’t lying about having worked for the Obama administration, but he’s certainly trying to portray himself as something better than he is: a crank who’s only taken seriously by far-right disinformation peddlers hungry for anything they can use to score political points. He’s just another denier trying to sell a book.”
Not exactly the high road, is it? The posse even smears the reviewer, Mark Thiessen of the American Enterprise Institute, saying “For those unfamiliar with the tangled world of organized climate denial, a recent study paints a pretty clear picture: of all the conservative, climate-denying think tanks that get Koch and other industry funding, AEI has gotten the most. It received some $380 million to peddle industry-friendly denial like Koonin’s, much of it through dark money pass-throughs to conceal that it’s coming from conservative and dirty-energy donors.”
There’s that Oreskes conspiracy theory again. So here we cannot resist quoting editor Jennifer Marohasy’s “Introduction” to the 2020 edition of Australia’s Institute for Public Affairs publication Climate Change: The Facts (p. 15 and yes, it’s well worth buying and reading) that “In the case of ‘climate change’ there is a trillion-dollar climate industrial complex supporting a sophisticated research program generating ‘facts’ that cannot be questioned. So, we are told there is ‘the science’, which is ‘settled’, as though science is a fact, when science is a method of finding out about the world.”
In that spirit Koonin’s response ends “To paraphrase a statement attributed to Einstein, ‘If I were wrong, it wouldn’t take a dozen scientists to disprove me – one would be sufficient.’ As I write in Unsettled, I welcome serious, informed discussion of any of the points I raise in the book. Unfortunately, the article by Oreskes et al. falls well short of that standard.”
Note that Koonin correctly describes that statement as “attributed to Einstein”. Many sources pin it on the great physicist without checking, and with varying wording, because it sure sounds good. But there’s no evidence that he actually said it, and Koonin is careful with facts including ones widely taken for granted. Unlike the posse, who blaze away with lines like “climate change is real, is caused primarily by burning fossil fuels, and is already hurting people all over the world, including here in the United States.”
If you ask questions, they try to hurt you too.