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Science, Climate Change, and Censorship: The Pacific Institute, Patrick Michaels, and the science of climate change

In recent years, a small number of vocal climate "contrarians" have energetically worked to distort, deny, and suppress the growing scientific consensus over the risks of climate change. These contrarians use public forums and opinion pieces as their principal avenue of communication, rather than peer-reviewed scientific journals. And recently, they have become more aggressive at trying to silence anyone who challenges their "theories" about climate change.

In one such action, climate contrarian Dr. Patrick J. Michaels threatened legal action against Dr. Peter Gleick in response to comments made by Gleick to a newspaper.

In November 2003, a reporter from the The Star Press (Muncie, IN) asked Peter Gleick for his opinion of Pat Michaels, who had been described in a local flier as one of the nation's leading experts on climate change. The Star Press then published an article quoting Dr. Gleick, which said that Michaels "is one of a very small minority of nay-sayers who continue to dispute the facts and science about climate change in the face of compelling, overwhelming, and growing evidence." Gleick continued: "I consider that Michaels is to the science of climate change like the Flat Earth Society is to the science of planetary shape." (full text)

In response, a lawyer associated with the Competitive Enterprise Institute and engaged by Michaels demanded "an immediate and public correction." At the same time, Michaels successfully threatened another scientist to withdraw similar negative remarks. But Gleick, with the assistance of the law firm of Keker and Van Nest, L.L.P., and the First Amendment Project, has refused any correction: "Dr. Gleick's statement…is deserving of unqualified First Amendment protection" they noted in a response (PDF) to the CEI letter.

"There is nothing to correct: my opinion is based on my understanding of the science of climate change, which has been developing for years. Scientists have a responsibility to the public. It's time for those of us who work on climate change to help the public and policymakers understand the evidence: Climate change is real, well underway, and poses severe risks to the United States and the world," said Gleick, who won a 2003 MacArthur fellowship for his work on climate change, water resources, and environmental security. "Lawsuits, junk science, and energy industry propaganda won't change the evidence about climate change, but the good news is there are practical, economically sound solutions that can slow the onset of climate change while giving us more time to do needed research and education on these issues."

Others Share Dr. Gleick's Perceptions

Morris "Bud" Ward, quoted in the same Star Press article that quotes Gleick, states that Michaels should just represent himself as what he really is --a "darned good" spokesman for the energy industry who "clearly comes with an agenda." When he portrays himself as a world-class researcher on climate change, "that's where he goes too far," Ward said. (full text of article)

Dr. John Holdren, of Harvard University, recently told the U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee, "Michaels is another of the handful of US climate-change contrarians, but lacks Richard Lindzen's scientific stature. He has published little if anything of distinction in the professional literature, being noted rather for his shrill op-ed pieces and indiscriminate denunciations of virtually every finding of mainstream climate science." (full text as PDF)

Dr. Tom Wigley, lead author of parts of the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and one of the world's leading climate scientists, was quoted in the book "The Heat is On" (Gelbspan, 1998, Perseus Publishing): "Michaels' statements on [the subject of computer models] are a catalog of misrepresentation and misinterpretation… Many of the supposedly factual statements made in Michaels' testimony are either inaccurate or are seriously misleading."

A journal article in Social Epistemology challenges the quality of observations used by Patrick Michaels to draw conclusions in a debate with Dr. James Hansen of the Goddard Institute for Space Sciences: "...the observations upon which PM [Patrick Michaels] draws his case are not good enough to bear the weight of the argument he wishes to make." (full text as PDF)


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News Article: "Global Warming Speaker Under Fire," The Muncie Star Press

Response to the CEI letter (PDF)

Pacific Institute Research on Climate Change and Water

"Threats to the World's Freshwater" (Pacific Institute and UNEP)

National Assesment Water Sector Report

More Climate Change Research

United States EPA

United States Global Change Research Program

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Pew Climate Center

More about the Global Change Program