Senior Scientist Cuts Ties to Lawrence Lab in Protest of Climate Denier

May 24, 2021

Climate denying scientist Steven Koonin, a darling of the Wall Street Journal editorial page, has a new book of standard climate denial memes, that the right wing media has been pushing.

Senior Scientist Ben Santer has cut his long term connections with Lawrence Livermore National Lab in response to a speaking invite the lab extended to Koonin.

Above, from my 2017 conversation with Santer, he describes the bogus “Red Team-Blue Team” exercise that Koonin organized under the auspices of the American Physical Society, supposedly to review the Society’s position on climate science.

Santer is, with Jim Hansen, and a few others, among the most honored and respected experts in Atmospheric physics, and has a history of extreme courage and tenacity in defending the emerging science of climate over the past 3 decades.

Earther:

Ben Santer, one of the nation’s leading climate scientists, said he is cutting ties with a prestigious government-funded laboratory over its plans to invite a scientist who has spread climate denial to speak in a seminar.

Santer’s work has shaped much of climate science for the past 25 years. His work studying the “fingerprints” of climate change have informed decades of research and he was the author of a seminal sentence in a crucial 1995 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that said the science showed “a discernible human influence on global climate.” 

On Monday, Santer, who is affiliated with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, sent out an emailed statement viewed by Earther and first published by the Union of Concerned Scientists in protest of a planned LLNL seminar with Steve Koonin, a well-known climate denier whose new book on how climate science is “unsettled” has attracted widespread praise from right-wing media and condemnation from basically everyone else.

In his statement, Santer didn’t mince words, alleging that Koonin is “not an authoritative voice on climate science” and that LLNL management had not adequately responded to Santer’s concerns about the seminar, which was scheduled to be held on May 27.

“Writing and releasing this statement may be viewed by some as an act of disloyalty,” Santer wrote. “I do not see it that way. I chose to remain loyal to the climate science we have performed at LLNL for over three decades. I do not intend to remain silent while the credibility and integrity of this research is challenged.”

(Earther has reached out to LLNL for comment)

Scientific American:

Steven Koonin, a former undersecretary for science of the Department of Energy in the Obama administration, but more recently considered for an advisory post to Scott Pruitt when he was administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, has published a new book. Released on May 4 and entitled Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters, its major theme is that the science about the Earth’s climate is anything but settled. He argues that pundits and politicians and most of the population who feel otherwise are victims of what he has publicly called “consensus science.”

Koonin is wrong on both counts. The science is stronger than ever around findings that speak to the likelihood and consequences of climate impacts, and has been growing stronger for decades. In the early days of research, the uncertainty was wide; but with each subsequent step that uncertainty has narrowed or become better understood. This is how science works, and in the case of climate, the early indications detected and attributed in the 1980s and 1990s, have come true, over and over again and sooner than anticipated.

This is not to say that uncertainty is being eliminated, but decision makers have become more comfortable dealing with the inevitable residuals. They are using the best and most honest science to inform prospective investments in abatement (reducing greenhouse gas emissions to diminish the estimated likelihoods of dangerous climate change impacts) and adaptation (reducing vulnerabilities to diminish their current and projected consequences).

Koonin’s intervention into the debate about what to do about climate risks seems to be designed to subvert this progress in all respects by making distracting, irrelevant, misguided, misleading and unqualified statements about supposed uncertainties that he thinks scientists have buried under the rug. Here, I consider a few early statements in his own words. They are taken verbatim from his introductory pages so he must want the reader to see them as relevant take-home findings from the entire book. They are evaluated briefly in their proper context, supported by findings documented in the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It is important to note that Koonin recognizes this source in his discussion of assessments, and even covers the foundations of the confidence and likelihood language embedded in its findings (specific references from the IPCC report are presented in brackets).

Two such statements by Koonin followed the simple preamble “For example, both the literature and government reports that summarize and assess the state of climate science say clearly that…”:

  • “Heat waves in the US are now no more common than they were in 1900, and that the warmest temperatures in the US have not risen in the past fifty years.” (Italics in the original.) This is a questionable statement depending on the definition of “heat wave”, and so it is really uninformative. Heat waves are poor indicators of heat stress. Whether or not they are becoming more frequent, they have clearly become hotter and longer over the past few decades while populations have grown more vulnerable in large measure because they are, on average, older [Section 19.6.2.1]. Moreover, during these longer extreme heat events, it is nighttime temperatures that are increasing most. As a result, people never get relief from insufferable heat and more of them are at risk of dying.
  • “The warmest temperatures in the US have not risen in the past fifty years.” According to what measure? Highest annual global averages? Absolutely not. That the planet is has warmed since the industrial revolution is unequivocal with more than 30 percent of that warming having occurred over the last 25 years, and the hottest annual temperatures in that history have followed suit [Section SPM.1].

The above is a perfect example of a sure “tell” that you are dealing with a climate denial flimflammer.
When they isolate “temperatures in the US” for any period of time, as some kind of representative of global temps, you know you are being scammed.
(the continental US is less than 2 percent of global surface area, so even if the data-period is not being cherry picked, the data area is)

Berkeley Earth veteran Zeke Hausfather gives an example here: (email communication)

“..it is important to recognize that a particular season in a region representing only 2% of the planet is not particularly representative of the global average. Extreme heat events in the 1930s were geographically concentrated in the US with relatively cool temperatures in the rest of the world. Warming in recent decades has been a global phenomenon, with new records regularly set across the planet. The figure below shows the peak of dustbowl-era warmth in the summer of 1936 compared with global summer temperatures in recent years, based on data from Berkeley Earth:

8 Responses to “Senior Scientist Cuts Ties to Lawrence Lab in Protest of Climate Denier”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    Theoretical physicists strike again!

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_E._Koonin

    • grindupbaker Says:

      Physicist. Appeal to authority. The authority of somebody who knows nothing of the topic because never studied it. 1000FrollyCoalShillThingPhD Robert Holmes got an Aussie climate science PhD just so’s he can keep repeating that Earth’s Global Mean Surface Temperature anomaly land only (GMST) is determined only by the Ideal Gas Law, because the Sun’s “baked in”. Lot of time & effort to do no science at all with your “abilities”.
      —–
      Freeman Dyson is a vegetation specialist. He said Earth would be better Angloformed to be all like beautiful England (I’m torn on that one) instead of the mish-mash it is. I’m not kidding, he literally said all Earth made like the English countryside is preferred.
      —–
      William Happer is quite expert on human social structures. He said the effects of a “small” warming that’s happening will be “minor”.
      —–
      Peter Wadhams is an expert on human social structures who bats for the team opposing William Happer’s team in the babblefest. He told a know-nothing Internet lady “Jennifer Hynes” “I don’t see how it can” in response to “Do you think human society could withstand a temperature increase of 0.6 degrees over just 20 years ?”
      —–
      And many more. You don’t need a PhD or even a BSc to know with high confidence what’s worthwhile science to ponder & what’s rubbish like Greenman’s example Earth = U.S. America (the standard for Yanks all over GooglesTubes). I didn’t complete my BSc in 1965 (complicated personal reasons) but what I have is a functioning brain so I don’t need to be Clubby and appeals to authority don’t work with me. Physicists must prove their creds to me by their works. Over 53 years I’ve worked closely on shared projects with mathematicians, astronomer, geophysicists, electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, structural engineers, computer programmers, computer systems analysts and I’ve known a few obvious duds who somehow got a P.Eng or a BSc in Electrical Engineering or Computer Science who were none too bright or competent, and I’ve also worked on projects with a mathematician/astronomer (McCarthyism killed his career)/geophysicist & his P.Eng electrical kid brother (highest marks in Ontario, Canada). There’s huge variety in BScs, PhDs & P.Engs is what I’m saying and if he/she isn’t working in their specialty they trained for then I ask myself immediately “Why the fuck aren’t they earning their living in their field of knowledge ? Because they’re dull mediocrity who just barely scraped in and got by”. This applies to ecologists (Guy McPherson) as much as physicists who aren’t working in their field of expert knowledge. Once out of their field of expertise they are simply lay persons to me, typically less competent than me.

      • neilrieck Says:

        I once attended a general lecture by Freeman Dyson where he said that he once worked for a company that was looking to commercialize space flight by exploding nuclear bombs from behind. (huh?)

        At times like this you realize why theoretical physicists are never allowed access to bench tools or soldering irons 🙂

        • Keith Omelvena Says:

          Freeman Dyson was a bit of an odd ball. His wacky ideas seem to have given him some sort of street cred. I understand he was a bit of a climate denier in his time. His main claim to fame, the science fiction concept of the “Dyson Sphere” just keeps popping up in scientific articles, as if it has more cred than mere imagination ramblings. Just the other day I was reading an article about disappearing stars published in a science mag. One of the options for such phenomena was alien civilisation’s building a sphere around a star, obscuring our view. The article explained it was using citizen science to compare photographic plates from the ’80s, and current, to identify such a disappearance. Apparently no such occurrence has yet been found. Talk about a non story masquerading as science! The pseudo science idea of the “sphere” just won’t die, even although its nonsense. When pointed out that the matter in the solar system is nearly 99% sun and deconstructing the planets containing the remaining matter, mainly hydrogen and helium, would find any such engineering feat coming up more like a Dyson spot, than a sphere, the concept falls a little flat!

        • Ross Myers Says:

          A couple of friends of mine worked in a lab where a theoretical physicist would come in from time to time (and occasionally break stuff).

          They put up a wooden knob on the wall next to the coffee machine and labeled it the “theorist knob”. Told the physicist that he could spin that knob any time he wanted, but that he needed to get permission from someone in the lab before he could touch anything else.

  2. John Kane Says:

    I once read a suggestion for a study to determine who was the most arrogant: An economist, a physicist or a surgeon.

  3. neilrieck Says:

    A couple of my conservative friends are already complaining that Koonin’s latest book is already sold out on Amazon. I have not read the book but I visited the site to look at the reviews. People who gave it negative reviews say that is missing a lot of peer-reviewed data (so no big surprise). According to stuff in this week’s issue of New Scientist, many of the world’s governments are preparing for COP26 which will be hosted in Glasgow this November. Could this be why Kooin released the book now?

    • Keith Omelvena Says:

      We can expect a deluge of recycled climate denial memes over the next few months, just to keep the faithfully ignorant happy with their ignorance. No doubt there will be hackers trying to ferret out a fake controversy, working tirelessly also, for something to release in conjunction with COP.


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