10 November 2009

Pushing Back Against Joe Romm's Character Assassination

In Part II of their look at "Climate McCarthyism" Ted Nordhaus and Michael Schellenberger look at how Joe Romm has waged an effort over several years to smear my name and reputation. Those not interested in the blog wars should move along, but hopefully will excuse this post, as it is my reputation being attacked and I am pushing back. Here I'll add a little extra detail to the account from Nordhaus and Shellenberger.

First, Joe Romm's attacks on me are based solely on his perception of what cause academic research would favor in his own political advocacy. He explained this to me in a comment on Prometheus after I had complained that he was egregiously misrepresenting me and my work:
. . . it doesn’t matter if you can dig up writing of yours from the past (read by hundreds of people) that seems to agree with things I’ve written. What matters is that when the media writes about their interviews with you (for millions of people) they seem to conclude mistaken things — in this case the need for a $20-billion-a-year federal program to “develop new energy technologies."
In other words, because Romm disagreed with the policies that I support (somehow making them "mistaken"), he felt justified in attacking my character and misrepresenting my academic work. He explains that what I actually write "doesn't matter." That Machiavellian perspective explains a lot.

Second, and very importantly, we later learned that even as Joe Romm's attacked me and my co-authors of "Dangerous Assumptions" (in Nature, 2008, here in PDF), he lacked a basic understanding of what the paper was about or its methodology. I pointed this out to Romm in an exchange:
It is clear that you still don’t understand the difference between a stabilization scenario and a baseline scenario. . .
Romm's response to this comment, which you may remember followed his having already written 10,000 words of attack on our paper, was as revealing as it was remarkable:
Please do explain this “difference between a stabilization scenario and a baseline scenario” and how it matters at all to my central criticism of your conclusion . . .
So Romm went on full attack against our paper, which was focused directly on the assumptions used by the IPCC in its baseline and stabilization scenarios, and he didn't even know what the difference was between them! Richard Tol patiently tried to explain to Romm how he had fundamentally misinterpreted the paper (n the comments here) with apparently no success. After that experience, Romm must have realized that he was not really up to debating the substance of policy issues and thereafter refused to engage me. Instead he went on the attack, writing dozens and dozens of posts that slighted me and misrepresented my work, all the while refusing me any opportunity to respond on his blog.

A recent example shows the absurd lengths that Romm will go to to try to smear me. In a recent post he writes:

I apologize for not warning you in advance to put your head in a vise to prevent explosion.

What you fail to realize is that for Roger “climate change” as defined by the IPCC, “global warming” and a “greenhouse gas signal” are obviously and utterly completely different things.

If Joe was trying to make himself look like a fool, he could not do a better job. In fact the three concepts that he mentions are different things. You won't find a single scientist willing to say that these phrases refer to the same concepts. I have even published a peer-reviewed paper on why such concepts matter for policy (here in PDF). But I have learned that discussion (or even mention) of my peer-reviewed research is not a place that Romm is willing to go.

So in the end I have pushed back. I have opened up a thread for the discussion of conclusions from my research and invited Romm (and others employing similar strategies) to "debunk" them. So far, he has been a no show. I'm not surprised.

Part II of Shellenberger and Nordhaus is here. Part I is here.

28 comments:

  1. I can understand your concern for the attacks on your reputation. But from where I stand, your positions are always well laid out and well defended. Romm's approach is that of a militant, and not a scientist. You are not discussing from the same place: you as a scientist and him as a militant. He wins political points, you win scientific ones. I guess you have to decide which one you're seeking. Keep up the good work.

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  2. Joe Romm is nothing more than a parasite in the climate debate. He gets paid by the click through and has established an M.O. of driving traffic by personally & viciously attacking the reputations of actual respected people who do real work in the field.

    I am afraid that your current tack of challenging him, however respectfully you are conducting it, in the long run only helps and encourages Romm by driving more traffic to his blog.

    It would be far better to ignore him. Since we can't tar and feather him that is what he most deserves.

    Further,his behavior should be brought to the attention of the New York Times editorial staff, Krugman, Friedman, and Kristoph, their public association with him does not reflect well on them or on their paper.

    I feel for you here Dr. Pielke, but I don't think that anything can be gained through engaging or confronting Romm. He is the only person that benefits and this only because he is beyond the pale in terms of motivation and reputation. He cares about nothing other then the $$ that come from his traffic. As such he has nothing lose and is just lining his pockets by attacking you.

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  3. Roger,

    Out of curiosity have any of the SRES contributors ever responded to your Nature paper?


    unrelated side note: I attended Chris Green's inaugural Climate Change Economics course at McGill in the 90's so I guess you and I are only 1 degree of Kevin Bacon :).

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  4. -2-Marlowe

    Yes, see for instance:

    http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/resolved-point-on-rates-of-spontaneous-decarbonization-4559

    http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/pik-on-dangerous-assumptions-4548

    and

    http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/nature-letters-on-pwg-4426

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  5. I would just point this out. In recent months, you have accused one scientist of being a liar, another of being a plagiarist, and another of letting his personal attitudes corrupt his professional responsibilities. I think that I might be missing a few here. And only one of these episodes involved your work in any way.

    Now I know that you don't lose your temper with your accusations, and obviously you think Romm is wrong and you are right. Maybe somebody else attacked you first - though most of us wouldn't know that now.

    But not everybody thinks your accusations are accurate. And avoiding the "snark" does not make the accusations any less harlmful if they take hold, as they clearly do in the blogosphere. In some ways it can make them more harmful as they appear to come with more credibility.

    You can choose to focus on Romm's more extreme attacks, but I doubt he would be doing it if there wasn't a general pushback against your chosen role.

    Just something to think about when discussing attacks on your character.

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  6. In a few years time, when all this global warming hysteria has calmed down, when they write the definitive book on how it all got so carried away, there will likely be an entire chapter for Romm.


    History will be very cruel for fools like Romm. Gore et al will be mocked as honest fools. Romm will be compared to other propagandists of the past and will have his deceit etched into the lessons of history.

    Your reputation is secure because you are honest. Romm's reputation will end up lower than a snake's belly in a wheel rut.

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  7. Roger,
    The dispute of this thread is about Joe Romm attacking your credibility. Since he offers no counter technical arguments he’s depending on his own credibility to carry the argument.

    The dispute of yesterday’s thread was aboutRajendra Pachauri attacking the credibility of Jairam Ramesh. While Jairam Ramesh supported his argument with over a thousand years of data, the best the head of the IPCC could do was hurl the insult of “boy science”. Mr Pachauri was depending on his own credibility to make the pejorative stick.

    Every time the proponents of cap and trade attack the credibility of their policy opponents they are spending their own credibility. Obviously a win on cap and trade is worth trashing the reputations of a few PhD’s, and politicians. They only need to hold on to some shred of credibility until the argument is settled. With the global warming trend halted their credibility is running low; Copenhagen may be their last chance to win the debate.

    As distasteful as the blog wars are, every time you counter an ad hominem attack with science you are chipping away at the credibility of the those who want to add a trillion dollar tax to our economy without effecting the earth’s climate.

    But look out for the back splash. You will get dirty in the process. The mud being slung around sticks fast but washes off slow.

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  8. -5-Dean

    So are you intimating an equivalency that suggest Romm's attacks are justified?

    If so, then I guess I'd disagree.

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  9. Dean:
    You said: "I would just point this out. In recent months, you have accused one scientist of being a liar, another of being a plagiarist, and another of letting his personal attitudes corrupt his professional responsibilities. " Can you remind of exactly who these were?

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  10. Eli knows it's a lot more fun to play the Goldberg variation, but as Hank Roberts put it over at the Yulsmans' place
    -----------------------------
    Romm’s maybe a Jerry Rubin or an Abbie Hoffman — he’s theatrical, he’s dramatic, I can’t read him very long, any more than I can read a lot of public bloggers who are so heartfelt they have trouble keeping their heads screwed on straight — though he’s far better than most. Sometimes he’s a flamer, sometimes he’s a clown, often he’s an attention-getter, and, always, he’s got to be more careful of his facts and cite his claims better– like any public speaker on anything important.

    And we’re in the midst of a great extinction, and he knows it.

    And you guys don’t, apparently, or you’d care more and show more knowledge and you’d be scared to death and trying to spend your lives on this problem, and you might even get a little erratic yourself instead of arch and polished.

    But, man, I remember Joe McCarthy
    Joe Romm is no Joe McCarthy.
    Not even close, not even comparable.
    ----------------------------

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  11. Roger,

    I understand that it must be frustrating having your character attacked in the way that Joe Romm does.

    But the question is:

    Does Joe Romm matters?

    Does he make anyone change their mind about the quality of your work or is he simply preaching to the already converted? I would for the latter

    Anyone with common sense knows that Romm accusation on your character doesn't hold the road. It is funny when he says that you are the most debunk person on the web. While at the same time those that debunk you keep complaining that the only a paper can be invalidated is through the peer review process.

    So when McIntyre points out flaws in a paper, it is not valid. But when alarmist like Lambert, realclimate, etc, do so it becomes gospel.

    The interesting differences is that the realclimate folks never publish, or rarely, on the subject they claim to debunk, but do publish numerous paper of their own, while McIntyre is a retired gifted statistician, who never did publish much.

    As you can see they request from others what they are unable to provide themselves. I mean peer reviewed article on their claim of debunking published paper.

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  12. Roger: What’s particularly amusing about all this is that shortly after the Nature kerfuffle with Joe, he had as a guest blogger Elizabeth Grossman, who, looking from 2000 to 2007, made essentially the same points you did about spontaneous decarbonisation in your Nature paper—and all without a peep of protest from Joe (see: “Why the world’s top scientists underestimated how fast we’re destroying the climate March 16, 2009”).

    So, for example, we’re treated to this: "In its most recent official report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) significantly underestimated the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that would occur during the last seven years. . . The underestimation means that government negotiators meeting in Copenhagen later this year to write a replacement to the Kyoto Protocol will have a tougher task than previously imagined.”

    And this: “’Overtly or covertly, if you have an optimistic baseline of what happens in the absence of policy, it makes what you need to do appear relatively modest,’” Caldeira says. ‘People who want to make the problem look more tractable have an incentive to make the baseline more optimistic. If you have a more depressing picture, it’s more difficult to make the transition.’”

    Quite the turnaround.

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  13. In other words, because Romm disagreed with the policies that I support (somehow making them "mistaken"), he felt justified in attacking my character and misrepresenting my academic work. He explains that what I actually write "doesn't matter." That Machiavellian perspective explains a lot.

    I'd say it is more Platonistic than Machiavellian. The whole thing is built upon what Romm views as a "noble lie." It's that he tries to define this as science, and people who ought to know better go along with this nonsense, which makes it so despicable.

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  14. Roger (8) - I had thought I made it clear that I was not suggesting equivalence. Your tone is different, and of course you are also a publishing scientist. No, not equivalence, but nonetheless similarity. You attack a lot of scientists - not just their concepts and ideas. And not just over issues involving your work.

    You have chosen a role of attacking a lot of working scientists, and now you are getting attacked. What comes around goes around.

    I just saw Sean Hannity claim that this year is among the coldest on record. I bet more people saw that short clip than probably read both climateprogroress and realclimate combined in a year. That's the level of discussion that is driving policy and the public, not Romm, you, or anybody at RC.

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  15. -14-Dean

    The following sure sounds like equivalency to me:

    "You have chosen a role of attacking a lot of working scientists, and now you are getting attacked. What comes around goes around."

    Part of the problem with the climate debate is that some people (like you in this series of comments) seem unable to tell the difference between, on the one hand. strong criticism, backed by an argument and data while offering those criticized a chance to respond, with outright lies, misrepresentation and character assassination while preventing the subject of attack the chance to respond.

    Yes, I've had some strong criticisms of the behavior of some scientists. And I will continue to do so, and when I do I'll lay out the basis for my criticism so that people can see it, and choose to agree or disagree. I do not mind if people disagree with me. Anyone I criticize is welcome to respond and explain where I am wrong (and there will be times that I am wrong;-). But criticism is not "attack," and scientists are no more above criticism than anyone else, me included. What Romm is doing is not criticism. Can you not tell the difference?

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  16. -14-

    Roger - Romm calls you a denier. You call Steig a plagiarist. Aren't both of those criticisms? Aren't both of those attacks? Romm offers plenty of reason for his attacks. So do you for yours. Some people find your reasoning no more convincing than you do his.

    You're unable to take a step away from this all and see how it looks. To me lots of people are attacking other people, you certainly among them.

    I grant the difference that you offer Joe Romm and who ever else the opportunity to respond that they do not offer you. That is a valid difference. But the hard line you see between your criticism and their attacks is only a hard line to partisans. To most people, the difference is hazy.

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  17. -16-Dean

    So you are arguing equivalency. Fine.

    I'll play along. Please explain Romm's "reasoning" that I am a denier.

    Also, if you wish to summarize my statements in shorthand, I'd ask that you at least be accurate. I never called Steig a "plagiarist."

    In fact I said the following which is very much different than you imply:

    "Knowing some of the authors, I sincerely doubt that they intended to plagiarize, but rather they could not bring themselves to rise above their pride to even acknowledge one of their "enemies.""
    http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2009/08/common-decency-goes-long-way.html

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  18. Roger - So after I saw that it is not equivalence, you say just the opposite. This is going in circles and you're ignoring what I'm saying.

    As to plagiarist, you said this, referring to what you think he did: "In academia this sort of behavior is called plagiarism, pure and simple." I think this qualifies as calling him a plagiarist, despite your later qualification. I would also doubt that Steig and McCulloch consider each other "enemies", but you do.

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  19. -18-Dean

    Yes, I interpret the following as argument by equivalency:

    "Romm calls you a denier. You call Steig a plagiarist. Aren't both of those criticisms?"

    Maybe you mean something different. Fine.

    I disagree with your re-interpretation of my comments on Steig, which I think are absolutely clear. You are free to re-interpret but I object to how you've put words into my mouth. When there is a dispute between what I said and what you think I might have meant, I'd suggest going with what I said explicitly.

    Awaiting your explanation of Romm's "reasoning."

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  20. Part of the trouble Roger is that you use irony and juxtaposition to argue your point. Some people though have an innate inability to recognize it.

    One example is placing Obama and Hansen in Rudd's denier definitions. To most of us that was a mere ridiculing of Rudd's crazy definitions but to at least one PhD ecologist you were calling Obama and Hansen deniers. In fact it is ironic that Rudd fits quite well into his own 3rd category.

    Another example was the Bayesian hurricane prediction farce. The originator of the study thought you were attacking his methods when in fact you were criticizing the idea that it was likely to be a valid exercise in the first place.

    On Deans criticisms, as I understood it the alleged liar and plagiarist are one and the same person. Regardless of how valid the charges were, that person's behavior is not exactly a shining example to follow for anyone.

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  21. "And we’re in the midst of a great extinction, and he knows it. And you guys don’t, apparently, or you’d care more and show more knowledge and you’d be scared to death and trying to spend your lives on this problem, and you might even get a little erratic yourself instead of arch and polished."

    This is the crux of the matter. People with that attitude might as well be wearing a sandwich board with "the end is nigh" because that's the level of credibility they have.

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  22. Cassandra was right on occasion.

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  23. Romm left science behind, in the dust, long ago. Romm is a Politico all about “agenda”.

    The fact his site is associated with The Center for American Progress’s site is a dead give away. The Center for American Progress is a political agenda site associated with the Tides Foundation which is all politics. Romm is merely promoting a political agenda.

    Romm is not going to discuss science as that interferes with “agenda”. The agenda has been set, Romm vilifies objectors to the science of the agenda, which is another dead give away Romm is all Politics.

    Here is the Political-Economy of Romm:

    (1) CO2 is the problem regardless of the Science. Discussion closed,

    (2) Cap and Trade is the solution,

    (3) Cap and Trade creates governmental revenue,

    (4) the revenue is used for a redistribution of income agenda.

    The problem for Romm is: Romm’s Science is being challenged and debunked point by point. The counter points of real science are finally getting press time. Real science is upsetting the apple cart hence enter vilification. Simultaneously, the kimono has been raised on the Political-Economy agenda of the CO2 Clergy in regards to the Cap and Trade issue being used as a social engineering agenda issue.

    Romm’s house of cards is beginning to fall.

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  24. "Part of the trouble Roger is that you use irony and juxtaposition to argue your point. Some people though have an innate inability to recognize it.

    One example is placing Obama and Hansen in Rudd's denier definitions. To most of us that was a mere ridiculing of Rudd's crazy definitions but to at least one PhD ecologist you were calling Obama and Hansen deniers. In fact it is ironic that Rudd fits quite well into his own 3rd category.
    "

    Well then I guess you are quite the innately superior intellect jgdes, for your ability to sense "irony and juxtaposition" in Roger's writings, notwithstanding the fact that his examples with Hansen and Obama were invalid because they did not in fact conform to Judd's stated definitions of the term, as I pointed out.

    The rest of us morons, unfortunately, are stuck with the habit of taking things at face value. It is that damnedest of tendencies among scientists. Now, without resorting to smartassedness, maybe you can kindly explain to us inferior intellects just why Judd's definitions are so "crazy".

    And I take it by your response to Hank Roberts that you don't believe that we are in an extinction event, do I have that correct?

    This is the reason it's not much worth it to engage with people like you, because you are more interested in generating controversy and argument than in actually understanding others, and thus, making progress.

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  25. -24-Jim Bouldin

    On the Rudd thread I am still waiting for someone to explain how they know that someone is "pretending" to accept the science.

    Note: that was a bit of irony;-)

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  26. 22-A man who fancies himself an Prophetic princess, hm? You slay me Joshy boy.

    24-"I take it by your response to Hank Roberts that you don't believe that we are in an extinction event, do I have that correct?"

    One can't believe in impossible (or rather, untrue) things. Although between you and Joshy boy you've got a regular royal family going...

    Good deity I can't understand the vitriol that is spewed by these climate activists...

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  27. Jim Bouldin
    Don't you think it's a bit ironic that a head of state can easily take his country into war or do all manner of things by executive decision but he just can't quite manage to get a measly carbon tax passed to prevent "an extinction event", despite the fact that he does the very same thing every year for basic transportation fuel? That's the irony! It means he's pretending and he fits into his own category. Obama is giving out the same BS as Rudd that pleases the plebs and passes the buck to a powerless minority. It doesn't take genius to work this out.

    Eli
    I read Michael Moore's "stupid white men" book where he was persuaded by loony scientists that BSE was going to wipe us out. I remember the Millenium bug scare that would set off nuclear weapons all over the globe (and no we didn't manage to check all of these computers). I remember all manner of predicted scary events that never came to pass. Is this the one that will kill us all? Well according to most history, warming is quite good for us; crops grow, people grow taller. Now extended cooling would be really scary! Nevertheless I've always agreed with you that it is an experiment and we only have one planet and I agree with going clean and green. I just happen to notice that a lot of probably more important stuff is being neglected by this CO2 obsession, eg are we going to run out of fish in 50 years? What about the mangroves or the dead zones, or the coral, none of which are dying off because of CO2 (despite the funding-for-me-too-please hype) but because of more direct human involvement.

    Vast swathes of the scientific population and many more hangers-on would be unemployed and unemployable without this current scare - pause for thought!

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  28. Eli,

    Cassandra was always right. Her curse was that noone ever believed her.

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