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Dessler on Koonin: Cancel Culture at Work

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- February 17, 2022

[Andrew] Dessler said anyone arguing that the science is too uncertain isn’t arguing from a legitimate position…. “[Koonin]’s a climate flat earther.” (Quoted in Benjamin Thorp, October 18, 2021).

“Dumb arguments” is too harsh? He’s just a old white dude whose vast experience in the halls of power gives him a unique ability to point out the errors that other people make? Nope. (Andrew Dessler, October 14, 2021)

Andrew Dessler, a climatologist at Texas A&M University, will have nothing to do with any critic of climate alarm. This activist has pure scorn toward his intellectual and scientific doubters. “Angry Andy” is certain that climate science is settled and drop-everything alarming.

A deep ecologist (nature is optimal and fragile; human interference cannot be good), Dessler has long concluded that we are headed for (or already in) a climate dystopia. Any fair hearing of the less extreme view of global lukewarming/CO2 benefits, consequently, would be a leak in the dike, one that could expand and take down the Wall of Climate Gloom.

So the cancel culture is in full mode in climate science activism. Michael Mann (Dessler’s colleague in arms) put it this way:

All of the noise right now from the climate change denial machine, the bots & trolls, the calls for fake ‘debates’, etc. Ignore it all. Deniers are desperate for oxygen in a mainstream media environment that thankfully is no longer giving it to them.

Report, block. Don’t engage.

Imagine an open-minded young person considering a career in climatology. He or she wants to really wants to probe the look-the-other-way areas of uncertainty with climate-feedback physics and with climate models. Seek and expand the frontiers of knowledge under the highest standards of the scientific method. Show professionalism and respect for the views of colleagues and others. Experience politeness and social skills, given and received.

That person best not enter into a profession where an Andrew Dessler or a Michael Mann or a John Holdren would sneer and blackball. Remember what Mann said about Judith Curry in Climategate: “I gave up on Judith Curry a while ago. I don’t know what she thinks she’s doing, but it’s not helping the cause, or her professional credibility.” Cancel Culture 101.

Steven Koonin

Enter Steven E. Koonin, University Professor at New York University. This noted theoretical physicist is author of the best-seller: Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters (2021). Having taught theoretical physics at the California Institute of Technology for most of his career, Koonin went on to work for BP (new technologies) and then as Obama’s Undersecretary for Science in the U.S. Department of Energy. In this position, Koonin oversaw climate research and energy technology work.

Koonin has a BS in Physics from Caltech and a PhD in Theoretical Physics from MIT. A specialist in modelling complexity, Koonin wrote the classic 1985 textbook Computational Physics.

Koonin is author of 200 peer-reviewed papers in the fields of physics and astrophysics, scientific computation, energy technology and policy, and climate science, as well as having been lead author on multiple book-length reports, including two National Academies studies.

In short, Steve Koonin is a leader in his field and well respected. And, it turns out, he is honest and of an age and tenure where he can speak truth to power.

Dessler’s Smears

Here is Dessler on Koonin:

I actually hate to weigh in on Koonin’s book …. Here are a few thoughts. First, Koonin has a track record of making dumb, over the top, exaggerated arguments.

Second, his facts are carefully cherry picked to present a specific narrative. For example, he says heat waves in the U.S. were more severe in the 1930s than today. OK, but the U.S. covers 2% of the planet. Globally, heat waves are more severe today.

Also, his belief in models is quite selective. We can’t trust climate models at all — the climate is too complicated!! — but we can have 100% confidence in absurd economic models of GDP growth.


It is important to realize that virtually all experts in the area ARE convinced by the data that humans are ~100% responsible for modern warming. So you can believe Koonin or you can believe the 99.9% of scientists.


Koonin’s arguments are 1) cherry picking of factoids and 2) value judgements about his interpretation of the data and his interpretation of risk. His judgements of the data disagree with virtually all expert scientific opinion. His risk assessment is based on his values.


I typically don’t believe in conspiracy theories, but the fact that Steve Koonin continues to get high-profiles endorsements of his dumb arguments suggests that some powerful media agents have decided that he’s their best bet for trying to cast doubt on climate science. Thoughts?

Dessler likes to use other words against Koonin’s views such as “idiotic complaint” and “denier shuffle.”

Andrew Dessler pretty much embarrasses himself, his department, and his university with such vitriol. Why?

Part of it is Dessler’s certainty that the science has reached certainty on what is known and not known. No shades of grey on the very pessimistic, alarmist black-and-white conclusion: humankind is on the road to doom.

So hyper-emotionally invested. Anything less than alarm–even by a scientist every bit as credentialed as himself–and Dessler must turn emotional and angry.

Second is old-fashioned envy. Koonin’s Unsettled — with sales exceeding 100,000–has outsold all of Dessler’s books put together. Koonin, moreover, has a reputation that Dessler does not. And Koonin is a go-to for a lot of organizations that are trying to cut through a lot of politicized science.

Little wonder that Andrew Dessler will not dare debate Koonin at Texas A&M. (I have offered to underwrite such a campus-wide event to no avail.) The climate alarmist, arguing a speculative position, cannot get away with a lot with the bright lights on. [1]

Appendix: Wrong Again?

Regarding Koonin’s major points against settled, alarmist climate science, Dessler states:

I don’t see that these are the kinds of arguments that get traction with the broad public anymore…. Most people, they look out their window and they can see climate change is real. Given the fact that what’s happening is exactly what was predicted by scientists decades ago. I think that people understand that climate science is real, as described by the scientific community.

Really? Is this a ‘settled’ fact, Professor Dessler?

Actually, it is panic time for climate alarmism among the political and intellectual elite. Citizens are protesting, and voters are voting against the forced energy transformation, itself the flip side of climate exaggeration.

Better yet, with the problems of wind/solar out in the open (and at an early stage of the transition!), the open-minded are looking anew at the science and false climate prognostications of years and decades past. They are not very impressed. Expect sales of Koonin’s Unsettled to grow and another edition to appear in the next years.


[1] My email exchange with Professor Dessler (11/09/2021) follows. I stated:

Let’s have a debate between you and Steven Koonin or even David Friedman with a full house at Texas A&M to put you on record–will you consider that?  I’ll make a $5,000 contribution to the university to help make it happen. Put the bright lights on where the statements will be on the record. Televise it. But it has to have a fair moderator and set-up.

He answered that day:

Add a zero ($50,000, donated to the Texas Center for Climate Studies at Texas A&M) and you have a deal.  You can even moderate the event and handle all of the logistics. I’ll find a room on campus.

I answered (11/14/2021):

No thanks for the invitation to increase my contribution from $5,000 to $50,000. And for me to moderate, etc. I want a real debate with me in the audience or watching it on TV. It deserves prime time with physical climate science on trial.

No reason to relegate a climate discussion/debate to the ‘back of the bus,’ right? That is an insult to you, your opponent, and science itself.

So work on a serious budget, and let’s give it the attention it deserves. I will increase my donation appropriately….

A fair debate between the alarmists and the optimists is prime-time important. Why have it in some basement? Let’s put the lights on and have a marque event….

Professor Dessler did not respond….


  1. John W. Garrett  

    Koonin’s book is magnificent.

    I highly recommend it to anyone who has a serious interest in the subject.


  2. Eli Rabett  

    Myanna Lahsen nailed Kooonin years ago

    “[Physicists learn] a way of thinking, a way of looking at problemsy See—this is a problem with physicists: they think they know everything, because they’re smart. What they don’t understand is that yes, it is true, actually meteorology is a branch of physics. And so you take a physicist, like me, and you can sit him down, and in 2 or 3 years, they could learn meteorology. But physicists confuse being smart and having the ability to learn everything with actually knowing stuff! There is a difference between having the ability to learn and actually having learned, and there is also a difference between understanding certain physical principles, which physicists do, and then knowing certain facts. Physicists always think ‘oh, I’m a physicist, I understand astronomy.’ But really, you don’t, because, for example, in astronomy there are just things you have to know. For example, you have to know how big the galaxy is. And being a physicist doesn’t automatically teach you how big the galaxy is. You might understand the physical laws that govern the galaxy, but you don’t know these facts: you don’t know how big it is, you don’t know what it’s made of, you don’t know what the planets are made of—there are just a lot of things you don’t know. So physicists think they know everything, I mean, they get confused between having the ability to understand everything—which they more or less have— and then actually knowing everything.

    Interviewer: Why don’t chemists do the same thing?

    Young physicist: Why don’t they have a similar arrogant attitude [small laugh]? I don’t know!”


    “An IPCC leader—a physicist himself—echoed the above statement:

    [There is a group of physicists among the contrarians who] feel that they are experts [on the climate issue]. There is a long-standing tradition in the physics community that holds that physicists can solve any problem just by thinking about it. There is a group in the US called JASON. These physicists meet down in Southern California, and they were convinced that they
    could solve any problem. [y] They were convinced they could solve the acid rain problem intellectually. They didn’t care about models and clouds and other detail. They thought they could do it from first principles of physics. And there is some of that left over.

    Overhearing the above comments, another IPCC leader and scientist pitched in: ‘‘You see, there are scientists who have been working at the highest levels in science and government, who feel as if they can make statements about any scientific area. But what they have to do first is their
    homework!’’ While the JASONS raison d’eˆtre was to solve any problem in any field on the basis of mathematics and physics, their expertise and competence is questioned in the environmental field”

    The arrogance of physicists like Koonin, is well captured by XKCD https://xkcd.com/793/


  3. John W. Garrett  

    The world would be a far better place if people simply said, “I don’t know” when they really don’t know.

    Instead, there are far too many people like Andrew Dessler and Michael “Piltdown” Mann who think they know but, in fact, don’t.

    The climate models ain’t worth a bucket of warm spit.


  4. Roger Caiazza  

    For all Eli’s claims of the arrogance of physicists, I think that ignoring the possibility that the author of the classic 1985 textbook Computational Physics might have insight into the climate models that climate scientists might not have, is the height of arrogance. It is not just climate models. The misuse of statistics and refusal to publish their techniques where statisticians could provide reviews is another example of climate scientist arrogant mis-use of peer reviewed science.


  5. Nobody  

    Climate models do leave an awful lot to be desired.

    Sadly the direction in which they are wrong is in badly underestimating both how fast and how severe the crisis is. You can see this in the frequency with which new events or discoveries are much worse or much earlier than anticipated.

    IPCC exacerbates this by requiring a consensus which means they report the minimum that everyone can agree on while many think it’s much worse.

    There’s loads we don’t know about the Climate but we do know enough to know we urgently need policies to actually halt GHG emissions and those are being actively obstructed by oil money.


  6. John W. Garrett  

    Wrongamundo, Nobody.

    The climate models have demonstrated no (as in zero, nil, none, zip, zilch) predictive skill. They have consistently overestimated warming.

    There’s a simple reason the models have been wrong: climastrology doesn’t understand the climate system.

    Climate $cience doesn’t know a whole host of variables, not least of which are attribution and climate sensitivity.


  7. Johnny Five  

    Your assignment of Koonin as overseeing energy work at the department of energy is inaccurate. At the time he was the under secretary of science which only overseas basic science, and the undersecretary of energy overseas all of the applied energy work. Very little climate science happens at the department of energy, most of it happens at commerce and at NASA.


  8. Mark Bahner  

    Eli Rabett: See—this is a problem with physicists: they think they know everything, because they’re smart.

    Ummm…Andrew Dessler’s bachelor’s degree is in physics.

    But speaking of people who think they know everything because (they think!) they’re smart…have you ever learned the relationship between enthalpy and temperature in the atmosphere? And if so, did you ever apologize to Roger Pielke Sr. for ridiculing him, when it was actually you who didn’t know what you were talking about?


  9. Ray Draeger  

    So glad Steven Koonin came along, his arguments are worthy. Listening to Mann and Dressler you understand they mix science with hate and don’t have answers when probed deeply. Lights have come on!


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