A Global Warming Counterfeit
Arthur Johnson, candidate for Congress in Oregon, has gotten some attention lately for his, er, original opinions. Here is some background on his climate denialist activity
Back in 1998, I got a mailing that included a very professional looking paper casting doubt on the link between human activities and global warming. Two things about the paper caught my eye. First was its source: it was mailed from the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine in Cave Junction, Oregon. Now it so happens I know where Cave Junction is. It’s a wide spot in the road, so called because there’s a turnoff for Oregon Caves National Monument. Cave Junction is not a major population center, much less the site of a university or major research labs. (Caveman Campers, which obviously take their name from the caves, are located not in Cave Junction but in nearby Grants Pass.)
The paper was called Environmental Effects of Increased Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide by Arthur B. Robinson, Sallie E. Baliunas, Willie Soon and Zachary W. Robinson. It had a lot of interesting graphs of carbon dioxide and temperature trends, and looked for all the world like a reprint from a journal. Same type fonts, similar paper stock, the works. The problem came when I looked for a citation, because if I were going to use any of this information, I would certainly need to provide a citation. And all scientific reprints have one, either at the beginning, the end, or on the top or bottom margin of each page. This one didn’t. Now if you want to disseminate information, you can simply photocopy your paper and send it out. Even some high-class journals do this. But this one was professionally printed, folded, and stapled on the spine. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to make this look like a published scientific paper. And that bothered me. I filed the paper away.
So in October, 2007, I got a mailing that was deja vu all over again. This one was from the Petition Project. It had a cover letter by Frederic Seitz, President Emeritus of Rockefeller University and past President of the National Academy of Sciences, asking me to sign a petition urging Congress to reject the Kyoto Accords. There was a petition card, and there was a reprint, this one on glossy paper, in color, and again bearing the address Cave Junction, Oregon. This article, also titled Environmental Effects of Increased Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, was by Arthur B. Robinson, Noah E. Robinson and Willie Soon. This one did bear a citation, from Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons (2007), vol. 12, pp. 79-90.
Just to close the circle, the first two references cited in the paper were to Environmental Effects of Increased Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide by Arthur B. Robinson, Sallie E. Baliunas, Willie Soon and Zachary W. Robinson, in Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons (1998; then known as the Medical Sentinel, vol. 3, pp. 171-178), and Environmental Effects of Increased Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide by Willie Soon, Sallie E. Baliunas, Arthur B. Robinson, and Zachary W. Robinson, in Climate Research (1999, vol. 3, p. 149-164). (I’ll say this - they make bibliographic searches easy!) So it’s possible the 1998 paper was a preprint or reprint of the Medical Sentinel paper.
So why publish a paper on climate change in a medical journal? And just what is the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons? A look at the contents from the last few issues is revealing:
* The Breast Cancer Epidemic: Modeling and Forecasts Based on Abortion and Other Risk Factors
* Government Price Fixing in Medicine: the Demanding Entitled Patient
* Is Physician Income Too High, or Too Low? [take a wild guess]
* Editorial: Conflicts of Interest and Quality Care
* Induced Abortion and Breast Cancer Risk: A Critical Analysis of the Report of the Harvard Nurses Study II
* Common Sense, 231 Years Later
* American Physicians and Meiji-Era Samurais: Is History Repeating Itself?
* The Coase Theorem: the Greatest Economic Insight of the 20 Century
* Has The Time for Nonparticipation Come?
* The Optometric-Ophthalmic Kickback Scheme: the Demise of American Eye Medicine
* Book Reviews:
o The Cure: How Capitalism Can Save American Health Care
o Liberalism Is a Mental Disorder [to be fair, the review is critical of the state of conservative scholarship]
o The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science [Generally favorable review]
o Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine’s Greatest Lifesaver
o The Privatization of Roads and Highways: Human and Economic Factors
o The Business of Health: the Role of Competition, Markets, and Regulation
o Envy: a Theory of Social Behavior
o Pain in America—and How Our Government Makes It Worse!
o America Alone: the End of the World as We Know It
o The Professors–The 101 Most Dangerous Academics In America
o Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years
o The Trouble With Medical Journals
o Minutemen – The Battle To Secure America’s Border
o Overdose: How Excessive Government Regulation Stifles Pharmaceutical Innovation
o The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History
o The Real Lincoln - A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War
o One Nation Under Therapy - How the Helping Culture Is Eroding Self-Reliance
o Life at the Bottom - The Worldview That Makes the Underclass
A scan of the journal’s contents shows very little real science. It may well be that the two papers on climate change are the most scientific papers the journal has ever published. There are a lot of articles critical of medical peer review and government regulation. And there are a host of tangential articles and book reviews favorable to far right and libertarian ideology. I could see a medical journal publishing a review of an extreme book like The Bell Curve that was widely publicized and had a bearing on medicine, but what serious medical journal would ever have a reason to review books on privatization of roads, the Minutemen, the 101 most dangerous academics (I was excluded both from this and People’s list of sexiest men. O the injustice!), or a hostile revisionist work on Lincoln?
Depending on which site you visit, Frederic Seitz was either a brilliant scientist who adds great weight to the skeptical arguments against global warming, or a corrupt charlatan in the pockets of any industry willing to pay for junk science. The tone of most articles on both sides of the divide is about equally hysterical.
There’s no doubt his early career was impressive. From 1949 to1968 he was professor of physics at the University of Illinois, where a research laboratory is still named for him. He helped bring future Nobel laureate John Bardeen to the university. He was president of the National Academy of Sciences from 1962 to 1969. He left Illinois in 1968 to assume the presidency of Rockefeller University, where he served until 1978. By that time he was 67 and in a position to retire with an illustrious career behind him.
Instead, he began working as a paid permanent consultant for the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, in which capacity he served until 1989. According to a purported company document posted on the anti-tobacco site tobaccodocuments.org, by 1989 some in the company viewed him as “quite elderly and not sufficiently rational to offer advice.” By the mid 1990’s he was emerging as a climate change skeptic. His role in promoting the 1998 paper led to the National Academy of Sciences dissociating itself from him. A New York Times story dated April 22, 1998 stated:
The National Academy of Sciences has taken the extraordinary step of disassociating itself from a statement and petition circulated by one of its former presidents that attack the scientific conclusions underlying international efforts to control emissions of industrial waste gases believed to cause global warming.
Many atmospheric scientists and ecologists who believe global warming to be a serious threat had expressed anger and alarm over the article because it was printed in a format and type face similar to that of the academy’s own journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [emphasis mine] In his letter, Dr. Seitz, a longtime skeptic on the question of global warming, also identified himself as a past academy president.
Dr. Arthur B. Robinson, the leading author of the article circulated with Dr. Seitz’s letter, said it had been submitted for review by other scientists and for publication in a scientific journal but had not yet been published. [Medical Sentinel?]
Dr. Robinson said he ”never intended to imply” that the academy endorsed it. He also said that he ”just wanted to put it into familiar format,” and that he liked the academy journal’s format. He noted that nowhere did the article say it was endorsed by the academy or published by its journal.
Dr. Seitz, a physicist who was president of the academy in the 1960’s, said, ”It’s true; the academy was not involved.” He also said he had urged the authors of the Robinson paper to ”withdraw it” and submit it to a journal for publication.
By 1998, the Internet was well established and there were all manner of pleasing formats available for documents. So there was no justification for mimicking the NAS format, much less using a special paper stock and spine stapling to make it look like a real reprint. And if Seitz felt the article should be withdrawn, why didn’t he insist they remove his name from the mailing, or at least issue a public disclaimer once it went out?
The tobacco industry reached all time lows of ludicrous crank science in their denials of the health dangers of smoking. For my money, Seitz’ association with tobacco, and even worse, his failure to acknowledge any wrongdoing, hopelessly taints his credibility.
With all the hype about “Climategate” and the supposed discrediting of global warming, it’s worth noting that the movement was spearheaded for some time by someone who had already been deemed too senile to front for the tobacco industry.
A detailed critique of the 2007 paper is at uwgb.edu