The below is a guest post from Barry Bickmore, a professor of geology at BYU. He blogs at Anti-Climate Change Extremism in Utah.
The other day, Meridian Magazine (an LDS-themed publication) published an opinion piece by Gary Lawrence, who wrote that climate scientists who warn about the dangers of human-caused global warming are on par with “those who love and make a lie,” and “sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers” the scriptures warn against. He apparently believes that climate scientists have been fraudulently adjusting their data and conclusions to promote global warming hysteria and line their pockets with research money. His evidence? A few out-of-context quotations from some e-mails stolen from a University of East Anglia computer.
Of all people, Latter-day Saints should know better. A number of years ago, I used to read anti-Mormon books, and then write book reviews for LDS outlets like FARMS and FAIR. I discovered, while reading these books and looking up their sources, that they sometimes actually made a few reasonable arguments against us, but these were typically buried within mountains of nonsense, conjured up through out-of-context or doctored quotations, and inaccurate or incomplete statements of LDS doctrine. It was quite clear that most of the authors were not very knowledgeable about our religion, but instead were simply repeating the same debunked myths over and over, because almost all of them were too lazy to look up the sources themselves to determine the context. This kind of “zeal without knowledge” can have very negative consequences, and it was just these kinds of lies and half-truths in the early days of the Church that incited mobs against us.
Today, the Mormons aren’t the only people who reap real consequences from being bad-mouthed by intellectually lazy zealots. Climate scientists, about 97-98% of which agree that humans are causing significant changes in the global climate system, often routinely receive ominous threats. (Click here to see a video of a man brandishing a noose at a climate scientist trying to give a talk.) Certainly it’s just a few nuts that do such things, but they are egged on by numberless others, who invent or pass on baseless charges that climate scientists are perpetrating some kind of fraud. (Click here to listen to a very prominent climate change “skeptic” whipping up a cheering Australian crowd by saying, “So to the bogus scientists who have produced the bogus science that invented this bogus scare I say, we are coming after you. We are going to prosecute you, and we are going to lock you up.”)
But Brother Lawrence would object that his charges of fraud and graft aren’t “baseless.” What about those e-mails? For instance, in one of the quotations that so impressed Brother Lawrence, a climate scientist named Jonathan Overpeck supposedly said,
The trick may be to decide on the main message and use that to guide what’s included and what is left out of IPCC reports.
That sounds sort of sinister, doesn’t it? He’s talking about using some kind of “trick” to support some kind of “message,” and leave everything else out of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports.
The really sad thing is that since these e-mails were released, others have been checking the context of statements such as those provided by Brother Lawrence, but he seems completely unaware that anyone has gone to all that work. What’s more, the e-mails in question are available on the Internet, but it never seems to have occurred to Brother Lawrence to look up the e-mails he quoted. Let’s take a look at a more complete context from the passage quoted from Overpeck’s e-mail.
I think the hardest, yet most important part, is to boil the section down to 0.5 pages. In looking over your good outline, sent back on Oct. 17 (my delay is due to fatherdom just after this time), you cover ALOT. The trick may be to decide on the main message and use that to guid[e] what’s included and what is left out. For the IPCC, we need to know what is relevant and useful for assessing recent and future climate change. Moreover, we have to have solid data – not inconclusive information.
First, note that Brother Lawrence’s quotation is doctored with added words. Overpeck wasn’t talking about “what is left out of IPCC reports”. Instead, he was talking about “what is left out” of a half-page summary of an entire section of the IPCC reports. In that context, how generic is it to advise someone to “decide on the main message and use that to guid[e] what’s included and what is left out”? The true quotation, in context, is so obviously and utterly innocuous as to make me wonder about the mental competence or basic honesty of those who originally thought it was noteworthy enough to include in a list of damaging passages.
Second, note how Overpeck even talked about trying to be responsible about only including “solid data,” rather than “inconclusive information.” In context, he comes off sounding like a nice, responsible sort of guy.
And that’s what I want to emphasize here. Jonathan Overpeck, in context, sounds like a good, responsible scientist—just the sort we would want to be lead author of a section in the IPCC reports. He has a wife and two sons, and they like to go camping together. He’s a real person, in other words, who cares for his family and wants to leave a better world for his kids. And yet, without even bothering to lift a finger to check sources, Brother Lawrence and Meridian Magazine have passed on a doctored, out-of-context quotation designed to damage Prof. Overpeck’s reputation and stir up the nut jobs to threaten him. (At least Brother Lawrence probably didn’t alter the quotation himself. The apparent source was this blog, which also doctors some other quotations from the stolen e-mails.)
Now, I’m not saying any of this to tar anyone for disagreeing with me about the seriousness of human-caused climate change. After all, until a few years ago I didn’t think it was that big of a deal, either, and I had less of an excuse than most people, since I’m a trained Earth scientist. But I ask you—how is Brother Lawrence’s and Meridian’s behavior in this matter any different than that of the people who write anti-Mormon books, or who used to stir up the mobs against us? How many states do we have to be kicked out of, and how many of us have to be persecuted or killed, before we figure out that, no matter which side we’re on regarding a particular issue, we should never be on the side of the mobs?