Breaking from the NYT: Al Gore not actually a scientist


Can this dangerous zealot be stopped?

In an article carefully designed to cause David Roberts’ head to explode, the New York Times today accuses Al Gore of alarmism.

The article is bad. In fact, it’s very bad. A brief catalog of some of its badness:

  • Implying some form of equivalence between Al Gore and, say, the Competitive Enterprise Institute by lumping together “the extremism of both skeptics and zealots.” Remember when we used to think of Gore as earnest and wooden? Turns out he’s earnest and wooden like a zealot!
  • Conceding that “the concern is not over the existence of climate change, or the idea that the human production of heat-trapping gases is partly or largely to blame for the globe’s recent warming,” before launching into a series of well-known and largely discredited nitpicks.
  • Relying on the same three people quoted in every single article that goes looking for scientific controversy over climate change. Perennial critic Roger A. Pielke Jr. definitely gets some points for irony, though, when he criticizes Gore for being a target of criticism: “Very quickly, these discussions turn from the issue to the person.” Yeah, no kidding.
  • Making the old new again. For some reason, Richard Lindzen’s ancient op-ed in the Wall Street Journal gets a fresh look. Apparently it still accuses Gore of “shrill alarmism.”
  • Somehow using the latest IPCC report, which makes the strongest statement yet about the link between anthropogenic emissions and climate change, as evidence against Gore’s argument. In one of its more subtle but egregious inaccuracies, the article repeats the untruth that the most recent IPCC report lowers the estimate for sea level rise due to global warming. In fact, the lowered range specifically excludes the effects of melting ice sheets, because these effects are more uncertain and almost certainly worse than previously realized.
  • Citing “a report last June by the National Academies [that] seemed to contradict Mr. Gore’s portrayal of recent temperatures as the highest in the past millennium.” From the report itself: “the committee finds it plausible that the Northern Hemisphere
    was warmer during the last few decades of the 20th century than during any
    comparable period over the preceding millennium.”

The article does highlight some areas of legitimate scientific uncertainty: the relationship between global warming and hurricanes; the link between global warming and the spread of malaria; etc. But why frame these legitimate — and frankly somewhat esoteric — debates as a hit piece on Gore?

Update: David Roberts’ predicted cranial explosion available here. It’s a lot like this post, except angrier and with even more debunkery. Real Climate chimes in with a less angry but more science-y takedown of the piece.

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  1. theo - March 13, 2007

    why frame these legitimate — and frankly somewhat esoteric — debates as a hit piece on Gore?

    Because the New York and Washington media has always hated Gore, and spent all of 2000 tearing him down based on a truckload of false pretenses. See the archives, which are embarrassingly replete with NYT and Washington Post misdeeds.

    I’m not sure why Maureen Dowd et al. loathe Gore; I guess it has something to do with high school psychosocial dynamics. Newspapers are catty places, and Gore’s an earnest guy and thus easy to mock.

    P.S. Don’t say “Roger Pielke”! He’s the Climate Change Candyman — if you say his name, and you’re a high-profile blog, he always appears.

    Ed. — this will be an interesting test of whether we are a high-profile blog…

  2. Aaron A. - March 13, 2007


  3. Thom - March 13, 2007

    Gotta’ love it too how the article quotes Kevin Vranes as a climatologist when he hasn’t published a single article on climate change.

  4. 'Segun Olude - March 14, 2007

    It is kind of sad that, intead of rally around the issue of climate change, regardless who the messanger is, some individuals prefer to tear at Gore for credentials. My questions is, who made the first doctor a doctor?
    Gore is doing a great selling job. I don’t believe that every medical equipment salesman must have a degree in medicine before they can go out and sell their wares.
    Please, chill. Stop Global Warming.

  5. Joe Markert - March 14, 2007

    This is the modus operandi of the right-wing media establishment. As you duly noted above – if you can’t take on the topic – take on the man. Surely it’s much easier to ‘discredit’ Mr. Gore than a world of scientists and scientific reports no?

    There was an intriguing conspiracy theorist film released on the web shortly after 9/11 which bore a very similar title to Gore’s now famous presentation. In this piece the author went on to discuss the reasons why he would never be listened to or seen as legitimate. Essentially he explained that to discredit someone of dubious or ‘lesser’ stature one need not argue the points – but simply find someone of higher public visibility to attack the person in question – as he went on to show examples in the real world media – a high profile public figure could take apart Michael Moore by simply calling him a ‘dumb ass’.

    Unfortunately, it’s true. All you need to do is resort to elementary school language and name calling and if you’re seen as a ‘highly regarded’, ‘important’ figure then you’ll immediately gain more cache than the person quoting facts and figures.

    Go figure.

  6. cindy - March 14, 2007

    After watching Inconvenient Truth, we are left with the blatant fact that the man who is president of our country is definitely the Uneducated one. Thank you Al Gore for an eye opening presentation supported by scientific facts!

  7. CWL - March 14, 2007

    Well…I hate to be contrary, but I thought the article was pretty balanced. I have moved back and forth on what I believe and don’t believe about global warming since for years, especially since watching An Inconvenient Truth. I think that we treat the earth poorly and that we Americans over consume, but global climate is a very complicated subject. What I didn’t like about the movie was how much in the forefront Gore was. It was gratuitous.(I like Gore, and voted for him, by the way) I like the Times article because the hype IS getting out of hand. When we assume that the causes of the current warming trend, we are lying. We make educated guesses that human pollution is a contributing factor, but if we are honest with ourselves and our science, we must say that we don’t know for sure. The earth’s climate has always been changing. I guess I would argue for open mindedness instead of fear mongering.

  8. Anonymous - March 14, 2007

    Hype or not, the FACT that global warming exists is alarming in and of itself. The “hype”, I hope, will get people off their overfed, TV watching fast food keesters and actually DO something. If we all take care of our side of the street, we’re gonna have one nice neighborhood.

  9. veektor - March 14, 2007

    Distrusting the media is usually sound — but as Merck found out with Vioxx, the cost of an over-aggressive salesperson can be the truth (and credibility). Mr. Gore’s visibility is (thankfully) far better than his example, no one is perfect, and we should appreciate what he does, but when he authoritatively talks well beyond his expertise something is going to suffer.

  10. Anonymous - March 14, 2007

    I find it amusing that anytime anyone challenges the “orthodox” view on climate change, the true believers almost come unhinged. Why is it so difficult for them to have a conversation on climate change without the hyperventilating?
    Prof. Lindzen of MIT, noted above, is one on the foremost scientists to ever comment on global warming and yet he (among others) is treated by Mr. Gore and his fellow travelers as some kind of crackpot. Indeed, all he asserts is that there is no proven link between between human activity and global warming.
    Finally, if the climate changers are cynical about some like Prof. Lindzen, perhaps some skepticism is due towards their side of the aisle. To wit, there are huge sums of money now floating around academic, governmental, quasi-governmental and venture capital circles. Many livelihoods now depend on furthering this issue. The amounts have grown exponetially in recent years and problems have a way of generating a life of their own when mega-bucks are involved.

  11. Adam Stein - March 14, 2007

    I find it amusing the way people who would deny the reality of climate change always have to invent some strange reverse conspiracy theory, in which most of the world is in on the plot, and only a few brave outsiders are willing to challenge the “orthodoxy.” (Nice use of scare quotes.) Note the use of the term “unhinged” to describe the documentation of factual inaccuracies in the article. Is the Real Climate web site also “unhinged”? I guess it’s all just a loony, unhinged mainstream scientific consensus, fueled by a giant slush fund of venture capital and government grants.

  12. Rich - March 14, 2007

    I don’t mind the ‘hype.’

    As an educator of children, I can tell you this…we all try to teach concepts. Things that will make people think about the cause and the consequence. However, as with advertising, the groundword is laid by using rote learning techniques. Information over and over again. If that is what it takes for the human animal to fix the damage, so be it. Most human beings either don’t care to thing long term or are to ignorant to their part of the problem.

    We also can LEAD BY EXAMPLE.

  13. andrew - March 14, 2007

    Maybe we should use some common sense worse case scenario options here. If we prepare for Global Warming by reducing our carbon emissions & it turns out to be a hoax or overinflated than some corporations have lost money but we have reduced our dependance on foreign oil & have cleaner air. If, however we listen to skeptics & do nothing about global warming or do little about it & it turns out to be real…

  14. Cheryl - March 14, 2007

    I’d like to know what kind of proof is needed to make people believe what most of us see before our eyes. For the last 300 or so years, man has created various ways of dumping CO2 into the atmosphere while at the same time clear cutting the forests that are the world’s lungs. That in itself should be proof that we are messing with the Earth’s ‘status quo’ and something bad will come of it. Just for arguments sake – say global warming doesn’t exist – how do you get around the obvious point that we have been lousy stewards of the earth and have not shown any fiduciary responsibility to the animals, fish, fowl and other creatures that inhabit this earth with us?

  15. Anonymous - March 14, 2007

    I viewed Inconvenient Truth & felt that Mr. Gore did an very good job of addressing the global warming issue with scientific resources. However, I also felt that he put in political & personal digs that did nothing to advance the cause of concern for the global warming issue. These digs, in fact, took some credibility away from him & his presentation. Had those things not been included, it would be much less likely to raise the hackles of people looking for a reason not to put stock in what he said.

  16. MNWalleye - March 14, 2007

    Did you happen to notice that in the movie Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore never once used a bicycle for transportation? Favorite mode of transportation for him was car, jet plane and helicopter. So the real message I get from Al Gore, John Edwards, John Kerry and so many others in the enviromental movement is, you can still use HUGE amounts of energy as long as you know who to pay off, ooops I mean buy carbon offsets from. Before you get mad at me, you might want to get mad at them first because believe it or not, this is exactly the message these people are sending to people who are sitting on the fence.
    MNWalleye carbon footprint 6.45

  17. Tom Arnold - March 14, 2007

    I personally think that was a missed opportunity in the film. I make it a point to bike commute to all meetings when I can (yes you can ride a bike with a suit on).
    But, don’t overlook that most people are just looking for an excuse to attack the messenger, because they don’t like the message.

  18. Duga - March 15, 2007

    The film was very good. But I’m concerned that Gore doesn’t practice what he preaches. There’s some info recently released that talks about how much energy his mansion consumes. I don’t expect him to drive all electric cars and live in a straw bale house with lettuce and tomatoes growing on the roof. But I DO expect him to practice what he preaches and throw some solar panels on his roof and/or switch to a geo-thermal hvac. Maybe even buy a hybrid car and/or SUV.

  19. Adam Stein - March 15, 2007

    Respectfully, Tom, I have to disagree. The sight of Al on a bicycle would have been absurd, and would have done absolutely nothing to fend off these sorts of attacks. If anything, it would have set Gore up as an object of Jimmy Carter-like ridicule.
    You know as well as I that Al Gore’s personal carbon footprint is utterly irrelevant to the bigger picture of the climate change issue. Brooding over Al Gore’s carbon footprint is the sort of moral reasoning you expect from a seven-year-old.

  20. Lora - March 15, 2007

    Tom Fletcher called Gore and Suzuki Pollution Pimps Prowling Planet. Here is my response, thanks to the editor of my local paper. We must stand up in defense.

    I was disturbed with the article entitled Pollution Pimps Prowl Planet. I don’t understand how anyone can see Dr. David Suzuki or Mr. Al Gore as anything but heroes. Sure, they have money, but don’t get me started on the mega millions some big business players are putting away!
    In my book, a pimp is a person who exploits. The people following Gore and Suzuki are well educated free thinkers, and not easily exploited.
    Please tell me how Dr. David Suzuki is taking advantage of me. I am college educated, had my share of martini lunches, and travelled extensively. I believe he is fighting a fair fight against progress pimps.
    I lived on the beaches of Cancun before big business got there, met young and not so young girls in the red light districts of Bangkok and Amsterdam, climbed the Rock and snorkeled the Reef. I have roamed Carthage. I now have two school age kids to raise.
    I believe these men and others like Cockburn, Geldof, and McCartney!
    My X is a Dane. I love the country, and have great respect for their science. I don’t care about a discrepancy of a few decades or a few feet! I will follow anyone that can do anything to save the planet for my children’s children!
    The lungs have no filter. Anything in the air goes once around the body, and what cell will it attack? How much carbon monoxide, pesticides, herbicides, and other harmful man made gases do we breath in a day? Add bad weather, and rising tides on top of that, and what a future we have created!
    Lets look at the health of our children and understand that the above men are just trying to save them and our planet.

    Lora Bruncke

  21. Anonymous - March 15, 2007

    Does anyone realize the obvious? From the top of this story;
    by Adam
    Can this dangerous zealot be stopped?
    In an article carefully designed to cause David Roberts’ head to explode, the New York Times today accuses Al Gore of alarmism.
    The article is bad. In fact, it’s very bad. A brief catalog of some of its badness:
    Isn’t Adam doing EXACTLY what he is accussing others of by attacking the messenger and name calling people who don’t AGREE with him?
    MNWalleye carbon footprint 6.45

  22. Aaron A. - March 15, 2007

    Walleye said: Isn’t Adam doing EXACTLY what he is accussing others of by attacking the messenger and name calling people who don’t AGREE with him?

    Not really. The “zealot” quote is the caption beneath Al Gore’s photo; it’s sarcasm. Al Gore’s CRAAAAAZY, and he’s going to kill us all by amassing an army of sentient killer windmills! Then, when they attack, our hybrid cars won’t go fast enough for us to escape! We’re doomed!

    Adam’s article attacks the Times article, calling its arguments outdated, exaggerated, and/or cherry-picked to present a position that’s hardly tenable on its own. From your own quote:
    The article is bad. In fact, it’s very bad. A brief catalog of some of its badness:

    You’ll notice that there’s nothing accusing the author of being a hypocrite, or being self-interested, or really anything about the author. Without reading the Times article, we don’t even know his/her name. So to make a long story short (too late), no, Walleye, Adam’s not attacking the messenger. He’s debunking an article that was written to instill doubt where little or no doubt should exist.

    — A.
    P.S. Congrats on the itsy-bitsy carbon footprint. I’m assuming it’s in tons. If it were in bushels, that would be even more impressive.

  23. Anonymous - March 16, 2007

    Just something I’ve wanted settled for a while: Are you still an alarmist if you are right?

  24. Julian - March 16, 2007

    It is incredulous to me that around the world goverments, and even US states have stood up and listened to the scientifc evidence that Global Warming is for real.. AL Gore has been able to take the message and make it so that the layman can understand it, get it and start to change the way they live.. Shame on the US Press pupits !! Freedom of speech is one thing, but to turn something so important into a personal vendetta against the message is a disgrace.. Al Gore should them for lible and slander!!!!!Maybe that would get Global Warming out there for the US population to see..After all a legal fiasco seems to be good press these days…I’d contribute to his legal fees to fight them…

  25. Adam - March 16, 2007

    If Al Gore is a zealot, sign me up for his cult and pass the juice. I’m ready to do my part in this battle, even if an impenetrable veil of ignorance still surrounds many Americans. I say let the New York Times discredit themselves. As a scientist and a businessman, I have seen for years how the mass media has an uncanny ability to misinterpret scientific and economic information. I have seen many headlines relating to the new “cancer cure” or how foreign trade “damages the economy.” *(let’s debate this point elsewhere, if you insist)* Scientists and economists come to their conclusions through arduous, well-established processes. Unfortunately, the public forms its conclusions based on media coverage and conversations with friends. Sadly, informed, unbiased reporting is a rare thing indeed. Such is the reason for my subversive informational campaign. Anytime I get the opportunity, I’ll bring up the topic of global warming and perhaps cite some studies. Staying informed helps to deflect all but the most childish of counter-arguments (perhaps these people are beyond hope anyway). I also encourage and guide people to seek out valid sources of information. I can never hope to make the Times or any other paper alter its reporting, but I can fight against misinformation every day. I hope you will all join me in your day to day conversations relatives, friends, coworkers, and the like. Word-of-mouth information can spread extremely fast.

  26. tj - March 16, 2007

    The fact that global warming “exists” has never been in question. Who or what causes it is what we are debating.

    The fact that a politician who is still reeling over his presidential loss to the current occupant of the white house, is the one person at the forefront of this activism is what many question.

    The political implications can not be dismissed. Enter in the academy award , his book,the nobel peace prize nomination that has been widely publicized and one has the suspicion that the “debate” has been determined to be a done deal despite the strong appeals from climatologists around the world who strongly disagree that the warming trend has anything to do with human activity since the worlds history BEFORE the industrial revolution saw other times of warming and cooling at the same degree or worse than today.

    Science is NEVER to be determined by consensus, and AlGore has been used (willingly) to trump consensus over pure scientific investigative models.

    Factor in his own hypocrisy in comparison to Bush regarding their homes in Tennesee and Texas. Bush’s home is a model of green efficiency and Al’s is a big polluter which he claims to offset by buying carbon credits. What he doesnt tell us is that he buys the credits from himself through his carbon offset company called “Generation Investment Management LLP”.

    With the book deals, movie, awards and potential awards along with the carbon offset program Gore stands to profit politically and monetarily. This could be the promotion necessary for another presidential run or perhaps just help his party.

    Gore has a history with business partnerships that profit off various cures for global warming. Look into the story behind “molten metal technology Inc” (MMTI)in massachusettes , a company that claimed to be able to recycle metals from waste. Gores business partner Maurice strong, a canadian, was tried for insider trading in this case where he sold off his stock before alerting other investors,due to the fact that the company was no longer going to be receiving DOE grants, its sole source of funding, which of course Al gore had a hand in securing.

    Remember Al is a politician and a business man. Liberals who have jumped to the defense of his documentary, know full well of their own suspicions about politicians who profit from government initiatives which is what all this hype is eventually going to lead to: Government policy which will impose various taxes on industry and give grants to companies like Al Gores.

    Bottom line: Global warming today is overtly political and profitable, for some!

  27. MNWalleye - March 16, 2007

    Well put tj.
    In my book Al Gore is not an enviromentalist, he is mearly a guy who makes a ton of money talking about the enviroment. It’s one thing to invest in techonolgies that are clean burning but it’s another thing to use immense quantities of limited resources for your own self interest while calling on others to cut back on theirs. But heck Al Gore isn’t the only one, lots of enviromentalist spew co2 to travel all over the world to tell us there’s too much co2 in the air. Why don’t they just stay home?
    I’ll share my utility bills with you Adam, not to brag, just to show maybe we don’t need to product co2 in the 1st place. I realize of course, that’s not good for your business though;)
    Take Care

  28. Stacy Andersen - March 18, 2007

    Regardless of his motives, Gore brought the issue of global warming into the spotlight this past year. Who cares whether or not he is a scientist. His mission of awareness is doing more good than harm at this juncture. Give him a break.

  29. Kathy - March 28, 2007

    I have been trying to find an e-mail address to write to Al Gore. He is a hero, but a flawed hero. I think it is time for Al and rich people like him to really step up and be an example to all of us of in downsizing our lifestyles. Right now tho he’s saying while we downsize, it’s okay for him to use carbon offsets. I’ve cut my electric, water, gas in half through many changes in my habits which did not really constitute a hardship. Of course my house is only 2000 sq feet and I’ve densified by giving 1000 sq ft to room renters and we all work together to conserve and recycle. Don’t wash cars, don’t wash clothes unnecessarily, don’t water grass nor do I have much lawn, have low flow everything, etc. I think Al Gore could sell a bunch of his houses, maybe even turn them into hotels for battered wives, for homeless children, etc. He should be able to downsize his personal home to 1/4 it’s size without a loss of comfort and sell the other homes. He too can cut down on showers, dishwashing, use of detergents, use of utilities, use low flow, etc. I’d like to know how much of this “sacrifice” he (and Tipper) is actually doing as an example to the rest of us. I think if with my reduced lifestyle I’m still willing to pay for carbon offsets, he should be able to reduce his own lifestyle instead of relying on offsets which is becoming the subject of jokes ie Daily Show. I want to totally HERO worship Al.