Trump’s Climate “Red Team”: Embarrassing even to Deniers

October 28, 2017


“Quite elderly”. “Third Rate”.

And that’s what their friends are saying.


Redshirt is a term used by fans and staff of Star Trek to refer partially to the characters who wear red Starfleet uniforms, and mainly to refer to those characters who are expendable, and quite often killed, sometimes in great numbers, often security guards, or an engineer.


U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt faces a predicament: If he picks certain climate skeptics for an attempt to poke holes in mainstream climate science, he risks alienating others and undermining the entire effort.

Yesterday, lists of candidates that a conservative think tank is promoting for the climate “red team” were made public by an advocacy group. The lists were sent to EPA by the Heartland Institute, according to the environmental group Climate Investigations Center, and include names of dozens of scientists and economists skeptical of mainstream climate science whom conservatives want to be part of the effort. Pruitt has repeatedly said that he wants to put climate science through a red-team, blue-team approach, modeled after a military exercise designed to expose planning flaws.

If he goes ahead with the climate red team, its roster will be critically important to how its findings are ultimately viewed. And some of the candidates on the list suggested they won’t participate if others are on board.

The Heartland roundup includes some scientists who have had research published in mainstream journals, but it also heavily relies on emeritus researchers, lawyers and self-funded hobbyists.


Others have published books like “Science Left Behind: Feel-Good Fallacies and the Rise of the Anti-Scientific Left” or “Climate Realism: Alarmism Exposed.” Joe Bastardi, who’s on the list, is a meteorologist who often appears on Fox News to discuss his skeptical views and who has also made a name for himself debating climate activist Bill Nye. Others hold advanced degrees in mechanical engineering, nuclear physics or other fields not related to climatology. Some of those on the list said they were not even consulted before their names were forwarded.

Also included on the lists are some scientists with a long history of peer-reviewed research, such as Judith Curry, a former professor at the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and John Christy, a climatologist at the University of Alabama, Huntsville. Both told E&E News yesterday that they had not been contacted by EPA to work on the red team, which they would only do if they viewed it as a serious effort.


“Having Heartland’s name affiliated with this detracts from the potential credibility of it,” Curry said. “By getting these third-rate people that are very far removed from any academic investigatory credentials is not going to help them, a lot of people who are advocates, not terribly objective people.”

Two lists of scientists and economists were sent to EPA earlier this year by the Heartland Institute, according to the documents obtained by the Climate Investigations Center and shared with E&E News. Personal information was redacted from the lists (Greenwire, Oct. 25).

Heartland CEO Joseph Bast noted in an email recently obtained by E&E News that his conservative think tank had recently sent names of potential red-team members to EPA for feedback. Heartland has been working behind the scenes to develop a red team as some proponents of the idea have expressed skepticism that Pruitt would follow through on publicly debating climate change science. Late last month, Heartland hosted its second meeting to help acquaint potential participants with how such a debate would work within the federal government. Another meeting was slated for November (Climatewire, Oct. 16).

EPA has provided little detail on how the agency intends to proceed on debating climate science. Pruitt has suggested the process could take months and would likely involve multiple federal agencies. The administrator has argued that there isn’t clear evidence for how much humans affect rising global temperatures.

Kert Davies, of the Climate Investigations Center, criticized the names Heartland provided to EPA. “The majority of Americans would not entrust anyone on that list with protecting public health and the environment,” he told E&E News.

The lists apparently sent by Heartland also include some editorial comments of the candidates mentioned.

One physicist is described as “quite elderly.” Another is highlighted for authoring a book cited by the coal company Peabody Energy Corp. in print ads. The Heartland lists also tout those who signed a letter accusing NOAA of violating government data standards after federal researchers found that there had been no pause in global temperatures in recent years. Richard Tol, an economist, is described as “a lukewarmer, supports a small carbon tax, and isn’t afraid to call out the ‘left’ for exaggerating the threat.”

Some of those named have been funded by energy companies with a direct interest in weakening science that finds carbon emissions are warming the world at an unprecedented pace. A number of the remaining researchers are self-funded and worked in other fields before making a name for themselves by rejecting mainstream climate science.

Pruitt has repeatedly called for a public debate of climate science to highlight uncertainties, as has Energy Secretary Rick Perry. This week, Pruitt told Bloomberg that he was still working on the red-team exercise and likened it to “peer review happening in real time.”

Some conservatives say they’ll only support an EPA-led red team if it is truly a rigorous examination of the science that doesn’t begin with preconceived notions — like claims that the Earth is not warming.

A good-faith, red-team effort could move the climate debate to a better place and elevate the status of climate science with conservatives who generally look to avoid the topic, said Joseph Majkut, climate science director at the libertarian Niskanen Center. He said he believes EPA will eventually move forward with a red-team effort, simply because Pruitt has mentioned it so often, but that it will achieve nothing if it’s not run by “honest brokers and valuable contributors.” He said he was disappointed with the Heartland lists, because so many of the people on them are not competitive in scientific literature.

A real effort would include the National Academy of Sciences and would follow ground rules set by Pruitt as well as the scientific community, Majkut said.

“You need to have a group of people who can credibly say to the scientific community, ‘Here are hypotheses we think you have under-investigated, and now we’re going to go and investigate them,’ and when they come back with results the scientific community needs to be like, ‘OK, this is at least a credible effort.'”

If it’s just researchers pushing the notion that more CO2 is good for the planet and other talking points debunked by the scientific community, he said, the red team will quickly become irrelevant.

“Otherwise it accomplishes nothing, it will just be splashy, it will be a temporary victory because the people in power now probably hold a lot of those same views and eventually it will wash away,” he said. “It’s a castle in the sand, it’s not going to affect the scientific enterprise at all.”


In 2008, Oliver Manuel, a nuclear chemist whose crank theories about the sun alienated even ardent climate change deniers, was convicted of attempted sodomy of his 11-year-old daughter.

Nine years later, his name appeared on a list of scientists proposed to the Environmental Protection Agency as arbiters of climate science for a national debate meant to provide Americans “true, legitimate, peer-reviewed, objective, transparent discussion about CO₂.”

The Heartland Institute ― the right-wing think tank that, after years of defending big tobacco through the lens of “smokers’ rights,” has become a leading proponent of climate change denial ― included Manuel on a spreadsheet of 205 scientists and economists submitted to the EPA in May for a planned red team-blue team exercise to debate the threat posed by climate change. HuffPost first reported and published the list on Wednesday.

Manuel, the former chairman of the University of Missouri-Rolla’s chemistry department, was arrested in 2006 on two counts of rape, four counts of sodomy and one count of attempted sodomy as a result of sex abuse accusations by his children dating back decades, Columbia Daily Tribune reported in 2008. Most of the charges were dropped, but he was convicted of attempted sodomy of his 11-year-old daughter in 1989, according to Missouri’s state Sex Offender Registry. His sentence remains unclear.

As bizarre and tedious as this is, real scientists need to remember that the Heartland/Pruitt effort continues to be not so much about science as it is about bamboozling the base and providing headline fodder for Fox & Friends.
One of the most famous climate denial memes based on this “fake Expert” fallacy is the “32000 Scientists” fraud, which I took down some years ago in a video, but history shows remains one of the most effective tools in the trollbox.

18 Responses to “Trump’s Climate “Red Team”: Embarrassing even to Deniers”

  1. Bast listed assorted “thoughts” and “highlights” in the leaked email, including:
    • “be briefing news reporters and news readers at Fox News.”
    • “reach the President by tweeting on the issue.”
    • “hold more congressional hearings.”
    • “simplify the issue by focusing on one or only a few arguments and images.”
    • “identify a few good spokespersons and focus on promoting them.”
    • “stop chasing the other side’s latest argument and focus instead on the benefits of CO2.”
    • “focus on the ‘tuning scandal’ that discredits the models.”
    • “turn debate from referring to median temperatures to high temperatures, which show no trend.”
    • “find independent funding for Roy Spencer, David Schnare, Willie Soon, Craig Idso, David Legates, etc.”
    • “push Pruitt to start a proceeding for reconsideration of the Endangerment Finding… he won’t do it without pressure”
    • “we need to be able to say ‘EPA is reconsidering whether CO2 is a pollutant.’”
    • “emphasize that we are pro-science and pro-environment… and the other side is not”
    • “fundamentally challenge, reform, or replace the National Academy of Sciences, the source of much pseudoscience.”
    • “conduct a new survey of scientists to refute the 97% consensus claims.”
    • “sue a company for not increasing CO2 emissions, force a court to consider the evidence on CO2 benefits.”

  2. dumboldguy Says:

    In keeping with the growth of the Trump Kakistocracy, two names from this red team list that have been mentioned for the vacant post of science advisor to the president are Art Robinson (of Oregon Petition fame) and Willam Happer, the atomic and optical physicist who somehow became a climate change expert.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      PS The 32.000 Scientists video is one of Crock’s all-time greats, and the fact that the Oregon Petition is still being used by the denier trolls (and believed by the ignorant and those with confirmation bias among the public) shows how difficult the battle continues to be.

  3. Why would the “Red” team include economists? Since when did the tea leaf reading profession, some times known as economics, have anything to contribute to actual science? Apart from the scientific fact they have been externalising the destruction of the biosphere from the beans they count that is.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Yep, and there are MANY jokes out there about the joke of a profession called ‘economics”, although perhaps the biggest is that it is awarded a Nobel Prize.

      Economics is the only profession where you can gain great eminence without ever being right.

      Did you know economists have predicted nine out of the last five recessions?

      How many economists does it take to change a light bulb? Seven, plus/minus ten.

      Why was astrology invented? So economics would seem like an accurate science.

  4. ubrew12 Says:

    “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.”
    I’m not surprised the deniers can’t field a team. They’ve spent their whole careers in the bleachers cursing the players; wicked fate that they should actually have to play some baseball! “Who’s on first?! And, while we’re at it, WHERE is first?!”

  5. J4Zonian Says:

    skeptical science, too, has done a number on the oregon petition, including a denial 101 video. denying delayalists are always denying there’s a 97% consensus, and it turns out they’re right. even if all the names on the petition are legitimate the alleged 3% dissent rate is off by a factor of 10; it would be about .3% of those qualified in the us to sign. The consensus within their own self-determined boundaries actually turns out to be 99.7%.

    In the unlikely event legitimate scientists and experienced debunkers could determine the rules of the red/blue debate this could actually set up the deniers to be redshirted. If Gish gallops were prevented, fact-checking enabled, some reasonable limits on what qualified as a citation could be enforced, and sufficient time allowed to rebut points, the standard nonsensical Koch-Exxon-ALEC lies might be dispatched with with, you know, dispatch.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Wishful thinking. The lies will never be “dispatched” as long as any red-blue matchup is set up with the false equivalency of equal numbers on each side or equal time for arguments and rebuttal. The cognitively dissonant will allow their confirmation bias to continue to overcome the science and little or no progress will be made with them.

      The only way this might work is if the teams were set up on the basis of the 97% vs 3% ratio od scientific consensus vs denier BS. Recall the John Oliver bit where 3 deniers were surrounded by 97 “scientists” in lab coats.

      • J4Zonian Says:

        Exactly. The lying (as opposed to the deluded) denying delayalists know that as soon as people know there’s a scientific consensus most people stop believing the lies. That puts the liars in a bind that we can exploit.

        Decent scientists in the consensus have to agree to a united front. The negotiations either have to be public or leaked. Our side insists on the following conditions: A tape delay of maybe 1 minute, and that army of 97 scientists, all in teams that are qualified in the various specialties of climate science, offscreen but checking facts. No argument is allowed to be made on air if it goes against science according to the appropriate team(s). Of course no denialist argument would meet that and none would be allowed, unless it were expressed in such a complicated, tortured way it would be incomprehensible, or with so many qualifications it were actually made true.

        IOW they would have to reveal their entire argument, with the fine print they always leave out, making cherry picking, fake experts, false dichotomies and many other denialist points impossible. Of course the denying delayalists would never agree to that…unless Trump impulsively tweeted his agreement, like he demanded an IQ showdown with Tillerson, (which he couldn’t possibly win or even finish taking unless they made all the questions about him). Or unless Pruitt or the negotiators were so stupidly arrogant (or arrogantly stupid) they actually believed their arguments.

        So either the fools would agree and be exposed as liars, or they would refuse to be fact-checked in public, in real time, and everyone would know they refused. That refusal wouldn’t convince committed deniers but it would chip away further at the teflon maze of illogic and lies that confuses people. I know that when scientists debate deniers it usually goes badly, but if we do it right we can force them to reveal themselves as fools, liars and psychopaths.

  6. So Richard Tol, the embittered economist pops up yet again as a “sceptical” voice for the deniers. This Red list is a just joke, an insult to the intelligence of the scientific community.

    Here’s an excerpt from Tol’s Wikipedia entry:

    ‘According to Tol “the impact of climate change is relatively small”.[5] He was also among the US Senate Republican Party’s “list of scientists disputing man-made global warming claims”, which stated that Tol “dismissed the idea that mankind must act now to prevent catastrophic global warming”.[6]

    Tol characterises his position as arguing that the economic costs of climate policy should be kept in proportion to its benefits.’

    So there you have it folks. A man whose position is one of denial has been chosen to promote denial for Scott Pruitt.

    The red team exercise is complete baloney.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Complete baloney indeed! And one of the first clues that Tol is a narcissistic egomaniac is to look at his photograph—-he is another denier (or Trumpie) with an insane hair “do”, and his look is particularly egregious for its “disjointedness”—-too long beard, frizz on top, semi-mullet in the back. Yes, one look at him makes it easy to believe that he’s an economist.

      And Lomborg is little better—-a 50+ year old man with a bleached blond mess on top of his head. Is he trying to look like the rock star that is his likely self-image?

  7. mboli Says:

    There are economists on that list because a number of denier arguments revolve around costs of climate change vs. costs of addressing climate change. This is expressed in a number of ways that are not directly straightforward.

    Bjorn Lomborg argues that money spent addressing climate change would produce greater benefits if spent on other worthy activities.

    Scott “Dilbert” Adams repeats a common argument that the decision to address climate change depends on piping the output of unreliable climate models through unreliable economic models, therefore the whole exercise is a joke.

    You get the idea. Marshaling economic arguments against addressing climate change is part of what they do. And as soon as you say “costs greatly exceed benefits” you persuade a lot of people.

    • mboli Says:

      To be clear, a lot of the denier arguments *are* straightforward costs-exceed-benefits.

      To my mind this suffers partly from what I have come to call the “Paris Agreement misunderstanding.” Often you read that the Paris Agreement would reduce global warming by only some small amount as of a hundred years from now, so not only is the agreement expensive it is also nearly useless. The Donald repeated this fallacy.

      In reality, the countries agreed to a *process*, the first step of which is certain emissions targets in the not-too-distant future and a framework for countries helping each other to reach these targets. They are to meet regularly and adjust the targets and create future targets. Because nobody knows what the landscape of technology, politics, power dynamics, costs, and understanding of climate change will look like 10 years from now, much less 90 years from now.

      Some countries that are receiving help in creating low-emissions infrastructure will quite possibly become the economic powerhouses of 50 years from now. It’s what happened in Asia. The relative prices of almost everything will change. The politics of what is possible will change as the effects and costs and benefits become manifest.

      All the “addressing climate change is too expensive” arguments suffer from the Paris Agreement misunderstanding.

  8. […] Cooler heads realized that the only people willing to serve on the “Red” team were nitwits and clowns, and the idea was shelved. I interviewed Ben Santer during that moment in time, to get his […]

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: