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Chasing Pielke's Goodyear Blimp

Posted on 19 September 2011 by John Cook

Roy Spencer and John Christy have on a number of occasions misinformed the public and even US Congress about climate science. Skeptical Science (SkS) has begun documenting their misinformation (not finished yet, it's a big job). As SkS is solely about the science, we haven't critiqued their political views but examined their science. And as SkS doesn't allow ad hominem attacks, we haven't attacked them personally, but restricted our focus to their misinforming statements. Our resources on Spencer and Christy are part of a larger resource that documents quotes and articles from a number of misinformers as well as rebuttals of their misleading statements.

Dr. Roger Pielke Sr. has observed our resource on misinformers and taken offense. It's not our scientific arguments that bother him. He doesn't flinch at the sight of Christy delivering demonstrably false statements under oath to Congress that contradict the peer-reviewed science, the laws of physics, and even his fellow "skeptics" (such as his hot spot statement). Pielke has taken umbrage at the use of the titles "Christy Crocks" and "Spencer Slip-ups". After registering his displeasure, Pielke then engaged in a lengthy defence of the UAH satellite data that Spencer and Christy were involved in.

Reading his post brings to mind a scene from the movie Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. As wild west cowboys converge on them, Bill and Ted distract their approaching adversaries by pointing off in the distance and exclaiming "look, it's the Goodyear Blimp!". In this case, Pielke's blimp is a lengthy exposition about UAH data which had nothing to do with our critiques of Spencer and Christy's misinformation.

After some back and forth, Pielke finally managed to respond to specific examples such as Christy's misleading testimony to Congress:

"I am not aware of John stating that the predictions of global cooling in the 1970s were the same as predictions today. The models were much more primitive than, so clearly they are not the same predictions, and I am certain John knows that. However, this issue is not particularly relevant (when raised by anyone) to the current important climate science questions."

Curiously, this is in direct contrast to Christy's own words where he cites the similarity from 1970s climate science to current science as an argument to cast doubt on today's understanding of the climate system. Having brushed off Christy's misinformation, Pielke once again cries "Goodyear Blimp!" with a series of unrelated questions, on topics he is much more comfortable discussing.

So we observe repeated instances where Pielke is unable to acknowledge Spencer and Christy's misinformation, and trying to move the discussion to more comfortable waters. Confronted with the misinformation of his colleagues, Pielke turns a blind eye and instead laser focuses on the Goodyear Blimp of UAH satellite data. When confronted with specific examples, he brushes them off and completely changes the subject.

Personally, I find the crocks themselves significantly more offensive than the use of the word "crocks". But as to the question of whether Skeptical Science will change the titles "Christy Crocks" and "Spencer Slip-ups", I have no emotional attachment to the titles themselves and am happy to change them if they bother people. Suggested alternatives are welcome. The only requirement is they capture the fact that Spencer and Christy are misleading the public about climate science. So a title like "Spencer's Promotion of Misinformation to the Public about Climate Change" fits perfectly, although it doesn't roll off the tongue quite so nicely. And "Christy's Demonstrably False Statements to Congress While Under Oath" captures exactly what the series covers, but good luck making that readable in an 88-pixel button!

Nevertheless, SkS does intend to chase after Pielke's blimp. The questions he raises about framing and diagnostics are interesting questions worthy of discussion, and we're more than happy to delve into them. In the meantime, we will continue to document quotes and articles from various misinformers and add them to our misinformers resource. Our goal is to make the science more accessible and easier to find by grouping it by Misinformer as well as by topic. Of course, as observed in our exchange with Pielke, the information won't be found by those who have no motivation to find it.

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Comments 101 to 108 out of 108:

  1. Chemware, #89:

    Yes, it is ridicule. And it is appropriate, because what these guys are doing is ridiculous: science in bad faith.

    Bern, #97:

    Wanting to avoid offending our own readers, or potentially new readers, is not at all equivalent to letting the self-described skeptics frame the issue. It's a free way to expand mind-share.

    adelady, #100:

    If you're not offended by the word "crock", that just means you aren't one of the people who are offended by that term. I am. I'm sure that if we sat down around a dictionary, there would be terms that don't offend me but do offend you; in that case, it would be polite for me to avoid using these terms in conversation with you, to the extent possible without encumbering the communication. Don't you think so?
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  2. adelay:

    And, to be clear, I am talking about conversation that we are having in the present moment, not about conversation that we might think of happening at some time under some special conditions ...

    And I don't like the term because it offends me, not because it offends Christy. To first approximation, I don't really care what offends Christy.
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  3. Make it rhyme? Christy's Twisties? Or if you want more accurate, Christy's Sophistry?
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  4. Memo to my fellow SkS authors:

    Let's change the damn "Christy Crocks" button and move on!
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  5. I like Paul from VA's suggestions.
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  6. "Christy's Twisties".

    I like it! :-D

    nealjking: I dunno, I think you'd find it difficult to find a word that I found offensive but you didn't... :-P
    (not that I'm challenging you to!)

    Having said that - considering the robustness (there's that word again! ;-) of the debate on the topic, it seems clear there's a significant part of SkS' readership that finds the term offensive (as puzzling as that is to some of us). So maybe it should be changed. Either way, it's John's call, methinks.
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  7. I was going to suggest adding an apostrophe and an s after each person's name and, before posting, realised that Rob Honeycutt at comment 30 is suggesting this already. It would make very slightly more explicitly the point that it is the statements that are the problem not the person - which is of course the point of the SkS posts about misinformers and indeed all the SkS posts. It's also noticeable that some commenters think the apostrophe is already there. It so happens that you have followed this practice already with the title of this article about the Goodyear Blimp. Cynicus's suggestion at 32 is another way of depersonalising. I think that the comments which suggest only using the person's name take this in the opposite and therefore too personalised direction.

    I have no problem with slip ups, but maybe crocks is raising connotations in some readers' minds (the many readers who come here for genuine education and enlightenment) that SkS authors do not intend.

    Let's make minor changes and move on.
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  8. @John Cook

    Captain Jack: The next time that you ask your Torchwood team to chase after a blimp, you will need to equip us with an appropriate number of all terrain vehicles. We know now that it is nigh impossible to catch a blimp by running after it.

    PS – Our bill for replacement running shoes is in your in-basket.
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