The Poorly Physician in a Huff

by | Jan 7, 2009

Just over a year ago, we picked up on a post at the miserablist blog, Grist, by Professor Andrew Dessler, former scientific advisor to the Clinton administration. Dessler had compared the planet’s ‘suffering’ from climate change to a child with cancer. ‘Who are his parents going to take him to in order to determine the best course of treatment?’, Dessler asked. Not to the ‘quacks’ (the ‘sceptics’). Better take the child to the real doctors (the IPCC).

Expertise matters. Not everyone’s opinion is equally valid. The list of skeptics on the EPW blog contains few bona fide climate specialists. In fact, the only criteria to get on the list, as far as I can tell, is having a PhD and some credential that makes you an academic. So Freeman Dyson makes lists. While I’m certain he’s a smart guy, I would not take a sick child to him, and I won’t take a sick planet to him either. In both cases, he simply does not have the relevant specialist knowledge. That also applies the large number of social scientists, computer programmers, engineers, etc., without any specialist knowledge on this problem. The bottom line is that the opinions of most of the skeptics on the list are simply not credible.

As Dessler discovered – after we told him – the IPCC is substantially comprised, not of climate scientists (aka ‘doctors’) but exactly the ‘large number of social scientists, computer programmers, engineers, etc., without any specialist knowledge on this problem’ that he accused the membership of the ‘Inhofe 400’ list of being. We surveyed the IPCC authors from WGI, WGII and WGIII hailing from the UK and USA, and found that Dessler’s characterisation of the IPCC didn’t stand up to scrutiny. If Dessler’s claim had not been made by Dessler, but by some run-of-the-mill political hack, his mischaracterisation would be inconsequential. But Dessler cannot claim to have been unaware of what the IPCC is comprised: he’s a climate science professor, and was an advisor to the Clinton administration. If he is was ignorant, he’s employed well above his ablilty. If he wasn’t ignorant, then he’s a straightforward liar. 

Dessler’s shrill tones have not diminished during 2008. Following an article on the usually ‘liberal’ Huffington Post by Harold Ambler, Dessler writes today that Ambler’s article was ‘replete with gross factual errors about the science of climate change’.

Word is that this was an editorial slip-up on HuffPo’s part; they don’t typically provide a place for this kind of agitprop. The essay is gone from the site’s portal pages and rumor has it The Huff herself may address the issue soon.

It is always interesting to discover ‘liberals’ acting illiberally. And it is when climate scepticism threatens environmentalism’s influence over the liberal camp that liberals who have bought the green cause get really illiberal. Consider, for example, Bjorn Lomborg, who has never ‘denied’ global warming, climate change, nor that they represent serious problems which ought to be addressed, probably by government intervention. In spite of his rather mild (in comparison to many sceptics’ claims) position, Lomborg was the subject of more vitriol from the alarmist propaganda machine than perhaps any other climate-sceptic/denier/realist figure. Why? Because he is – look at him – super liberal. As liberal qualifications go, you don’t get much more liberal than a gay vegetarian Danish academic. (Denmark – for those who don’t know, is perhaps the most liberal place on earth: it has a tax rate that would make many conservatives go into anaphylactic shock, it has a huge welfare state, and has the lowest income inequality in the world, not to mention one of the highest standards of living.) Whatever you want to call him, the word ‘conservative’ just doesn’t really sum him up. And that is why he terrified the environmental movement. It’s not because he challenged the science, it is because he threatened the political project. He offered a rational and pragmatic methodology to assess the world’s problems that was consistent with liberal values. And in reply, the environmental movement went ballistic. 

So let’s get this straight, the substance of Harold Ambler’s unremarkable essay is of little significance. What’s got up Dessler’s nose is that it was published on the liberal/left Huffington Post. To allow liberals to fall out of line on the climate issue would be to reveal the nebulous character of mainstream liberal thought – without the spectre of immenent catastophe, there’s not much keeping it together. Hence, Dessler diminishes the essay as ‘agitprop’ and welcomes its removal from the ‘portal pages’. Dessler’s rhetoric does two things. First, it tells the reading liberal what to think and legitimises censoriousness. More importantly, second, it fires a shot across the bows of any liberal organ which dares to entertain a climate sceptic on its pages in much the same way as Martin Durkin’s Great Global Warming Swindle (just 90 minutes of TV in a shedule jam-packed with environmentalism) drew furious comments about Channel 4 from the Great and the Good. It threatens to withdraw the moral authority loaned to liberals by climate science.

If Mahatma Ghandi were still alive and dared to express scepticism about the climate issue, ‘liberals’ reading the ‘liberal media’ would struggle to identify the difference between his views, and those of Ann Coulter.



  1. stas peterson

    Mr. Dessler is a smart, educated man, who has adopted GAIAN religious dogma as his Science. He is therefor not intelligent. However, he is almost sane by comparison to Mr. Obama’s choices for Administration scientific positions.

    In comparison to Mr. Obama’s designated Science Advisor, Mr. Holgren, a certifiable loon, with his absurd prediction of a US population of 22 million in 2000, due to the enormous famines, from resource exhaustion, that he predicted with fraud Dr. Erlich. Or Ms. Carol Browner, Mr. Obama’s EPA designate, the proud card-carrying member of the organization Socialist International. She is a defiant crazy, and redistributionist masquerading as an Green. She has no academic credentials, and is the exact model of the the so-called “Watermelon”; a Green on the outside, Red inside. The protective Green coloration, hiding the true political aims. Her support for Lysenkoism is endemic.

  2. piaggio

    Dessler doesn’t know much about Freeman Dyson, who is a Cambridge BA in maths but not a PhD. His ScD is honorary.

  3. Stevo

    He also apparently doesn’t know that Dyson was working on climate change science and the effects of CO2 twenty years before it became fashionable.

    See the interview here:

  4. Cam H

    I feel the need to point out in response to comment #1 that the Socialist International is neither socialist or much of an international. The British Labour Party is one of its largest members. It’s a very mainstream organization.

  5. G.S. Williams


    It’s good to see that there are some Realists around who are knowlegable about Climate-science. It is urgently necessary to get all of the governments in the world to realise the falsehood of the IPCC’s Pseudo-science. and prevent the Cand T etc from beilng enacted. As you’ve mentioned, the Poor will be poorer and the average Middle class will also be poorer.

    We are in danger of a Catastrophic Global swindle, if the IPCC cannot be stopped.


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