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Thugocracy: Science in the Postmodern World (Roger Pielke Jr. as victim)

By -- November 18, 2021

“Scientists try to discover the truth through observation and open inquiry; thugs try to impose their version of the truth through force and intimidation. As Roger Pielke learned, thuggery works.”

There’s an old trope among lawyers: if the law is on your side, pound the law; if the facts are on your side, pound the facts; if neither the law nor the facts are on your side, pound the table. For thugs, the third option is to pound your opponent.

Today, thugs have taken over much of our politics, many of our universities, and much of our science. Their response to dissent is not to assemble facts and logic to support their claims but to slander, intimidate, and muzzle the opposition.

Canadian investigative journalist, Donna Laframboise, has documented one such case in her paper, The Hounding of Roger Pielke Jr.  Pielke is a political scientist and professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. He is the author or co-author of dozens of peer-reviewed papers related to extreme weather events, and has authored or co-authored over a half dozen books, including The Climate Fix: What Scientists and Politicians Won’t Tell You About Global Warming. From 2001 to 2007, Pielke was the director of his university’s Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, and he was a visiting scholar at Oxford University during the 2007-2008 academic year.

All of which is to say that Pielke is a serious guy, and, on the surface, not the obvious target of a vendetta by environmental activists. As Laframboise writes:

[Pielke] says he has ‘never questioned the climatic importance of human emissions of carbon dioxide’, and fully supports a dramatic ‘decarbonization of the global economy’. [His book] The Climate Fix calls for a modest carbon tax to fund the development of innovative energy technologies. Moreover, Pielke leans left politically. In 2018, he told an audience he has never once voted for a Republican presidential candidate. Yet he has endured more than a decade of harassment and persecution from US Democratic Party operatives, green campaigners, journalists, and academic colleagues.

Pielke’s original sin was committed in 2006 when “he delivered the prestigious Roger Revelle annual lecture, a gala event sponsored by the US National Academy of Sciences and hosted by the Smithsonian Institute in the nation’s capital.” Although he told the audience that, “human influence on the climate system has been well established” and that CO2 emission reductions were “essential,” he also stated that there was no increase in either the number or intensity of natural disasters. Worse, he had the effrontery to back up his claims with data.

Still worse, Pielke wouldn’t back down. In 2013, for example:

[H]e appeared before a US Senate committee on the environment. Explaining that he had, during the previous 20 years, ‘collaborated with researchers around the world to publish dozens of peer-reviewed papers…related to extreme events’, his ten-page written statement restated his longstanding position: ‘It is misleading, and just plain incorrect, to…associate the increasing costs of disasters with the emission of greenhouse gases.’

Increasing costs, Pielke argued, were due, not to bigger and more frequent weather events, but to increasing wealth around the world; there is just more stuff to be damaged than before. Pielke based his arguments on “internationally recognized historical datasets and IPCC reports.” The data in Pielke’s written statement showed that there had been “no clear severity trend in one direction or another, when averaged across the entire U.S.” 

John Holdren, a physics PhD who served as President Obama’s science advisor, wrote a six-page rebuttal that “refuted” Pielke historical data with computer models that predicted more severe weather events in the future.

Holdren also accused Pielke of taking a statement from a 2008 U.S. government report out of context. The statement: “droughts have, for the most part, become shorter, less frequent and cover a smaller portion of the US over the last century,” was followed in the report by the caveat that there were local exceptions in the “U.S. Southwest and parts of the interior of the West.” Though Pielke documented the exceptions in a footnote, Holdren accused him of leaving out the information entirely. Holdren’s false accusation “remained on the White House website for nearly three years.”

In 2015, Arizona Representative Raul Grijalva, enraged by Pielke’s 2013 testimony, went after him and six other scientists (including MIT’s Richard Lindzen) who had also testified “incorrectly” about global warming. Grijalva wrote the universities employing the seven academics demanding “comprehensive records extending back eight years.” In Pielke’s case, this included: “‘total annual compensation’ between 2007 and 2015, all drafts of ‘Prof. Pielke’s testimony before any government body or agency’, emails Pielke wrote while composing his testimony, plus a long list of detailed financial information concerning research grants, consulting fees, speaking fees, ‘promotional considerations’, and travel expenses, together with all emails connected to any funding source.”

Laframboise writes:

In 2018, Pielke delivered his first public talk on climate since the launch of Grijalva’s 2015 fishing expedition. He’d gone, he said, from two or three speaking invitations per month to one in three years. In his words: ‘Delegitimization works’

Laframboise documents many ad hominem attacks on Pielke. While such attacks are commonplace (as anyone who has ever published anything can attest), in Pielke’s case they are noteworthy because they came from PhD scientists. Joseph Romm, who has a doctorate in oceanography, used the once influential (and now defunct) Center for American Progress blog, Climate Progress, to attack Pielke, variously labeling him the “head cheerleader for climate chaos,” a “denier,” and (slipping in the obligatory Nazi allusion) “the uber-denier.”

Not content to smear Pielke, thugs-with-PhDs also worked to deny him any platform for his ideas. Romm used the Climate Progress blog to go after journalists who interviewed or even quoted Pielke. Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times reporter, Paige St. John, learned this the hard way when she interviewed Pielke in 2015. “Quoting Roger Pielke,” she later wrote, “Will bring a hailstorm down on your work from the London Guardian, Mother Jones and Media Matters.”  The Center for American Progress also organized a “Climate Science Rapid Response Team” that mounted a successful campaign to have Pielke removed as a contributor to FiveThirtyEight.com.

Colorado University Boulder has mounted its own campaign against Pielke. The four academic programs he developed and led have all been shut down. Though the senior professor in his department, Pielke was moved into the smallest office in his building – one with no windows, telephone, or Internet connection. It was made entirely useless when “his desk was pushed onto its side to make room for a delivery of filing cabinets and file boxes.”

Scientists try to discover the truth through observation and open inquiry; thugs try to impose their version of the truth through force and intimidation. As Pielke learned, thuggery works.

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