Friday, June 4, 2021

Koonin's "Unsettled"? Ill-advised, or liar for hire? (reviewing Boslough's review)

 I’ve been haphazardly collecting and reading some articles regarding the latest media darling of the climate science denial crowd, Steven (he’s a real, if dishonest, scientist) Koonin.  It’s to be a followup to Ben Santer’s article and intended to be a bibliographic Student Resource for those curious about the disingenuous game Koonin has been playing for years.

Then a couple days ago I read the following “critical review” - at SkepticalScience.com, it was reposted from Yale Climate Connections and written by the respected Mark Boslough - and it’s been haunting me since, so I’ve decided to purge it from my system by posting Boslough’s unedited article, with a few additional thoughts of my own.

Boslough, admits to being a good friend of Koonin.  Indeed his review, is more about understanding and forgiveness for Koonin’s unfortunate excesses, along with K’s failures in judgement and character.  Rather than an critical examination of the malicious lies Koonin repeats like a wind up doll.  

Where Boslough sees an unfortunate, to be pitied, I see a malicious liar for hire.  

Someone who should be exposed and shamed for his wanton disregard for honesty and our children’s futures.  Instead, we get yet another example of dancing by the contrarian’s drum beat.


I share the article as written thanks to their generous CreativeCommons repost permission.  I did add bold and red highlights to single out specifics.  I also share a few thoughts of my own in green print.

This is intended for students who are sick and tired of old white guys getting away with this sort wanton deception.  Students who are already busy trying to figure out how to confront the fire hose of disinformation … (continued after Boslough’s article) (edited June 5th, PM)

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A critical review of Steven Koonin’s ‘Unsettled’

Posted on 1 June 2021 by Guest Author at SkepticalScience.com

This is a re-post from Yale Climate Connections by Mark Boslough

I would normally ignore a book by a non-climate scientist promising “the truth about climate science that you aren’t getting elsewhere.” Such language is a red flag. 

But I’ve known the author of “Unsettled” since I took his quantum mechanics course as a Ph.D. student at Caltech in the 1970s. He’s smart and I like him, so I’m inclined to give his book a chance.

But smart scientists aren’t always right, and nice guys are still prone to biases – especially if they listen to the wrong people. 

In an apparent quest {Baloney.  Quest my foot.  Fairness had nothing to do with it, look at what was done and how it was done.  It was a cynical strategic effort of misdirection from the get go!} for fairness when he led a committee of the American Physical Society (one of my professional organizations) to assess its statement on climate change, he recruited three scientists to represent the 97% consensus, and three contrarians, presumably to speak for the other 3%. 

The lack of proportionate representation amplified the contrary opinions that he heard, and only in one direction. He completely ignored another, equally unfounded, contrary view. The position sometimes referred to as “doomism” (the belief that the worst-case is inevitable and it is too late to prevent it) was not represented. 

The three contrarians had a long and well-documented history of engaging in ad hominem attacks on mainstream climate scientists and misrepresenting their work. Most of the technical mistakes and misrepresentations in “Unsettled” may simply be attributable to Koonin’s trust of those advisors and lack of rigorous independent verification.

( That’s not good enough.  

Koonin put himself into that hermetically sealed intellectual bubble.  Curry, Christy and Lindzen are unabashedly biased extremist.  It would have taken a minimal amount of good-faith research to unravel the dishonesty of those three central characters of climate science obfuscation and misdirection.)

Physicists Battle over the Meaning of "Incontrovertible" in Global Warming Fight

A semantic fight causes American Physical Society to change statement on climate change

By Gayathri Vaidyanathan, ClimateWire on April 14, 2015

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Physicist Steve Koonin impeaches scientists’ climate consensus

In a long Wall Street Journal commentary, the veteran technoscience leader declares the science not settled.

Steven T. Corneliussen - physicstoday.scitation.org,  Sept 22, 2014

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*Koonin states: “Individuals and countries can legitimately disagree about these matters, so the discussion should not be about “believing” or “denying” the science.”

But ignoring evidence that’s been explained to him over and over and over again, is deliberate contrived denial.  It’s a crime! - 

Which is exactly what Koonin’s arguments depend on - 

deliberately ignoring the full scope of evidence at hand !  


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Some books CAN be told by their cover. This is one of them.




Unfortunately, “Unsettled” is a book you can accurately judge by its cover. Koonin’s title hints at a logical fallacy called the “strawman” argument. The blurb on the flap confirms this with its opening sentence: “When it comes to climate change, the media, politicians, and other prominent voices have declared that ‘the science is settled.’”


A bit of fact checking by the author or publisher would have shown that these claims were not true. 

Why continue pretending that Koonin was acting in good faith?  This is deliberate calculated deception! 

Why don’t we call it out for what it is?


In fact, Koonin makes use of an old strawman concocted by opponents of climate science in the 1990s to create an illusion of arrogant scientists, biased media, and lying politicians – making them easier to attack.

The phrase “science is settled” is repeated as Koonin’s target throughout the book, even though it has never been in common use by climate scientists and their supporters. If it were, then Google and LexisNexis searches would surely turn up instances, but the opposite is true. All the examples I found were from critics claiming that advocates of the consensus had said it.

Bogus ‘science is settled‘ rhetoric dating back 25 years

The earliest published use I found was (that infamous) July 11th, 1996, letter to the Wall Street Journal from prominent denier Fred Singer, falsely claiming that the IPCC report had been inappropriately tampered with for political purposes and that “politicians and activists” were “anxious to stipulate that the science is settled.

Singer’s strawman gained traction a year later when William O’Keefe, the chairman of Global Climate Coalition (a lobbying organization opposed to climate action) claimed in a statement to Congress that “the [Clinton] Administration repeatedly quotes that [IPCC] sentiment out of context in its statements that the ‘science is settled.’”  It stands to reason that repeated use of the phrase “science is settled” would be found in searches if true.

Searches do, however, turn up (in the White House archive) what Clinton actually said only two weeks before Singer’s letter. “The science is clear and compelling: We humans are changing the global climate.” Nobody could argue with that at the time, nor can they now.

There are many examples of physical problems that are difficult to model, have large uncertainties and unpredictable outcomes, put people at risk, and require policy decisions and international treaties. My primary field of planetary defense is one. It’s a clear and compelling fact that the Earth will be hit by another asteroid. We just don’t know where, when, or how bad it will be.

The recent re-entry of an errant Chinese upper stage provides a more concrete analogy. The fact that its orbit would decay and it was going to come down was not in question, and could rightly be called “a settled fact.” Various models had huge uncertainties, disagreed with one another, and could not predict the reentry location. 

But those inadequacies cannot be used as evidence for any absurd claim that it was going to stay in orbit. Anyone taking that position would be guilty of the same logical fallacy (called “impossible expectations”) that Koonin directs toward climate science.

Unpacking the ‘strawman’ argument

Another example of a strawman argument in “Unsettled” is the claim that the term climate change denial” is intended to invoke Holocaust denial, an assertion that triggers strong emotions. Koonin says, “I find it particularly abhorrent to have a call for open scientific discussion equated with Holocaust denial, especially since the Nazis killed more than two hundred of my relatives in Eastern Europe.” I do not doubt the sincerity of his anger, but it is misdirected.

First, it’s aimed at a strawman. Climate change deniers are (by definition) not asking for open scientific discussion. The term “denier” is reserved for those who simply deny.

Second, there is no evidence that the term “climate change denial” is intended to invoke Holocaust denial. Ironically, this connection was first made by the late Hollywood screenwriter Michael Crichton, speaking at a 2003 lecture at Caltech, where Koonin was provost. The word “denier” literally means “one that denies” and the term has been used this way since the 1400s. The term Holocaust denier didn’t come into widespread use until the 1980s. By the early 1990s “denier” was independently being used to describe those who deny the science of climate change.

Third, it is climate scientists, not deniers, who have been compared to Nazis and perpetrators of genocide. In fact it was Crichton himself, in the appendix to his 2004 book “State of Fear,” who directly equated climate scientists to eugenicists who had a role in “killing of ten million undesirables.” Crichton also explicitly compared climate scientists to Trofim Lysenko, whose work he described as resulting in “famines that killed millions and purges that sent hundreds of dissenting Soviet scientists to the gulags or the firing squads.” 

Nevertheless, Koonin praises Crichton and cites “State of Fear” as evidence that he was an “outspoken advocate for scientific integrity” who “looked askance at the public presentation of climate science.”

Whether one thinks it is more abhorrent to be described by the same word as those who deny other things, including the Holocaust, or to be explicitly equated to those who carried out the Holocaust is a matter of personal opinion but may indicate unconscious bias.

More uncertainty amounts to more risk

Koonin’s bias became evident in the introduction by his use of biased language. Climate scientists “adjust model results to obfuscate shortcomings.” “Climate alarmism has come to dominate US politics.” By speaking openly about uncertainty, he had “inadvertently broken some code of silence, like the Mafia’s omerta.”


It has nothing to do with Koonin’s “bias”!  It is pure deliberate fraud that Koonin is knowingly perpetrating.  Boslough should stop giving him the “nice guy free pass.”  From the viewpoint of 2050 what Koonin is doing is nothing less than criminal.


Koonin implies throughout the book that climate scientists have conspired to downplay uncertainty and exaggerate the risk, apparently unaware of the fact that increased uncertainty means increased risks. 


In reality, scientists have been bending over backwards to be conservative and circumspect - because they are as human as the rest of us, they don’t want to face up to the rational consequences of what it all means, any more than the rest of us do.  That sort attitude shift needed a community along with some serious good-faith learning.  We needed each other to keep ourselves honest.  But when people slam their ears and minds shut, what can we do?


We all want to believe in the happy days with more money, more stuff, bigger and better, it’s the only way to go within this society we’ve created  - but the Physical Reality of this planet, the thing that provides our life support system, is that, it is a finite system that we are pushing beyond its ability to sustain us.  

We are here by the grace of hundreds of millions of years of evolving Earth and biology.  We were blessed with a wonderful climatic plateau and lush landscapes waiting to be plundered these past ten thousand years or so.

Earth nurtured mankind as we got smarter and greedier, ego filled our heads and power became all important.  I was born in 1955, so I know that the 50s, 60s, 70s  was a revolutionary period for humanity's understanding.  Thanks to countless scientific workers across the globe and generations worth, we finally realized the conundrum society had created for ourselves.

People who paid any attention to the news, learned about our new reality. Exemplified by Dr. Albert A. Bartlett who started giving an important math lesson to generations of students.


Bartlett regarded the word combination "sustainable growth" as an oxymoron, 

since even modest annual percentage population increases can represent exponential growth. 

Over time, huge changes will then occur. 

He therefore regarded human overpopulation as "The Greatest Challenge" facing humanity.




Executive Productions-Seattle produced for the American Museum of Natural History.


Animated graphics to illustrate the world's population growth over the past 2,000 years.   Note the extreme growth during the last 200 years, since the industrial revolution and the projections for the future.




Humanity learned that the tables were turning, we people were becoming a genuine global heavy weight force and our numbers promised to overwhelm Earth, if we didn’t do some rational compassionate rethinking.  Rethinking that took our home planet Earth into account.

Simply extrapolating the numbers made clear that our Earth’s cornucopia era was ending.  If we wanted a healthy future, we needed to do some serious thinking and discussing, planning and making some hard choices, and then doing.

We also knew that "doing nothing" would have its own inevitable cascading consequences.  Society was like an aircraft coming in for a rough landing with only so much runway ahead of us.


If we had educated ourselves, became proactive, decided that endlessly increasing consumption and desires wasn’t such a good idea, and that perhaps having less stuff, along with less kids, would help those children enjoy better lives, as they had their own families to raise.  Now look at what our legacy is.


Nowhere does he mention that climate sensitivity is described in the scientific literature by a probability density function that is highly skewed, with a long high-sensitivity tail that we cannot discount with certainty. 

More evidence of Koonin staging a deliberate calculated, strategy, fraud.  Calling it brainwashing wouldn’t be too harsh a description.


Risk is the integrated product of probability and consequences. It’s hard to argue that the consequences of climate change don’t get worse with sensitivity.

If a pilot isn’t sure about having enough fuel to get you to your destination, if an astronomer isn’t sure that an incoming asteroid will miss the Earth, if your doctor isn’t sure if you have a terminal disease, if you’re not sure you turned the stove off: In each of these cases, the uncertainty is unsettling. 

Why does Koonin think that unsettled questions in climate science are any kind of comfort when the consequences of doing nothing can be catastrophic? “Unsettled” should leave serious scientists feeling unsettled.


Actually it should have scientists feeling betrayed by Steve Koonin, since that is what he’s doing to serious rational climate science.  Another fallen scientist, become liar for hire.  It’s tragic.


Readers would do well to see crankyuncle.com for information about logical fallacies used by climate change deniers.


Cranky Uncle does a great job of laying out the problem, you dear readers, need to figure out how to turn that information into successful storytelling that can take the liars to task, while telling the complete story in question and helping education all sides.

Unless we are changing minds, we are losing.



Mark Boslough is a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. He has served on the Executive Committee of the American Physical Society Topical Group on the Physics of Climate and created, convened, and for several years chaired American Geophysical Union sessions on “Uncertainty Quantification and its Application to Climate Change.”

(Introduction continued) … 

This is intended for students who are sick and tired of old white guys getting away with this sort of wanton lying.  Students who are already trying to figure out how to confront the firehose of factual lies coming out of the GOP and corporate funded right wing extremists. Its intention is to help the interested learn to better dissect and understand contrarian tricks of the trade.


Thirty f’n years and those arguments Koonin is repeating haven’t changed a bit.  They haven't allowed one thread of new understanding to penetrated their intellectual bulwarks.  They have succeeded with bluster and that self-certain totalitarian attitude, that will brook no unpleasant information.  Think about what's unfolded these past decades, it's been nothing less than brainwashing, that only keeps on getting more extreme and belligerent.  While the band plays on.  

  

Why can’t we get the conversations back on point?  Examine the claims, share evidence and explain how our Global Heat and Moisture Distribution Engine operates and why it matters to us, expose the deceptions constructively.

There are stories to be told about our Earth and how its our biological life support system - the climate that protects and also nurtures the biosphere by converting the sun’s raw energy - the reality of us and today’s biosphere being the product of hundreds of millions and billions of years worth of an amazing Evolution.   It’s a magnificent story all too few appreciate and share.  

I think better appreciating Earth’s Evolution is the only story capable of truly sustaining our flagging spirit through the coming upheavals, when the systems we’ve always relied on become impotent at channeling dark passions, and religion degenerates into cynical money making schemes.


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