Populist Science | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 86 Issue 36 | p. 6 | Letters
Issue Date: September 8, 2008

Populist Science

Department: Letters

I'M NOT SURE what befuddles me more, the attacks on Rudy Baum's editorial stances or the embarrassingly poor quality of the arguments used in these attacks.

One letter in the latest salvo counters Baum's assertion that "hundreds of [EPA] scientists have personally experienced political interference" with the statement, "Please do not insult us with statements such as this" (C&EN, June 23, page 3). Note that the writer does not call the statement untrue or even baseless. A Lexis-Nexis search of major U.S. and world publications, news wire services, and TV and radio broadcast transcripts over the past seven years for "EPA AND scientists AND political AND interference" yielded 286 hits. Perhaps Baum inferred that hundreds of EPA scientists have reported political interference from articles such as the April 24, 2008, Los Angeles Times article entitled, "Hundreds of EPA Scientists Report Political Interference."

Another writer in the same issue of C&EN offers a non sequitur that blames a nonexistent policy—"[Baum] believes that the U.S. must immediately go green while removing itself from foreign oil dependency" for "the sharp increases in food and gas prices." We've been told by the industry that these increases are mainly the result of increased demand and the resulting increase in transportation costs. (Another question for another day might be, "Has oil consumption really increased by 100% over the past year?")

When I was a sophomore in high school, my English teacher used to tell us that opinions are only as good as the reasons one has to support them. Such shoddy reasoning as that exhibited in these letters might pass for substance on the Fox News channel, but I expect better from my ACS colleagues.

John D. Bookstaver
St. Louis

I WANT TO THANK Rudy Baum for his editorial "Defending Science" (C&EN, June 9, page 5). I am just now getting through my backlog of C&EN and very much enjoy reading his piece each week. I am a fairly new faculty member, and I guess fairly impressionable. I was part of a bulk mailing campaign from Arthur B. Robinson and the Oregon Institute of Science & Medicine (OISM) or whomever sent out copies of the Journal of American Physicians & Surgeons (JPS) article. I've been carrying it around with me in my "to read" folder with other journal articles.

I study automobile emissions (gases-air toxics, not CO2), and I am inevitably asked about CO2 emissions and climate change. I kept thinking I should read that article and see what the other side says even though I have found that the other side is only a handful of folks. Your letter saved me a lot of work, and I thank you for decoding the mysterious JPS and OISM.

Daniel A. Burgard
Tacoma, Wash.

ARTHUR B. and Noah H. Robinson present a defense of their point of view that "there is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause a catastrophic heating of the Earth's atmosphere and disruption of the Earth's climate" (C&EN, June 23, page 3). They circulated a petition to thousands of people and got "more than 31,000" to sign it.

Since when is science decided by popular vote?

William Copulsky
Raleigh, N.C.

MICHAEL COVINGTON'S praise for skeptics in science forgets that there is a time and a place for skepticism (C&EN, July 28, page 6). If I am studying a phenomenon, then I should be skeptical; if I am using that phenomenon in my daily life, I should be careful. For example, if I am climbing a mountain, I should not be skeptical about gravity. If I am building an analytical instrument, I should not be skeptical about basic electronics or optics.

This is the reason that skeptics about climate change often seem to be so careless or even dangerous. Our daily lives and habits are using Earth, its atmosphere, and its abilities to respond to extra CO2 and extra warming. We know that our habits are having disastrous effects and that they may trigger even more harmful feedback loops within a few years. We already know enough to see that this path will end our civilization and harm millions of people now and in the future. We also know that no single "solution" about which we could debate endlessly—or taking no action—will be enough to save civilization. So, with respect to climate change as it affects our daily lives, we must take all effective solutions; we must create "both, and" projects to emit less CO2, to sequester CO2, to develop catalysts to reduce CO2 to useful chemical forms, to become more efficient, and to develop renewable sources of energy.

By all means, let us continue to be skeptical when we are studying the climate, or when we are trying to refine our models or determine the exact costs and effects of one of our portfolio of solutions. But skepticism in the face of the evidence while we are planning and living our lives, and while we are using our finite shared Earth, is careless at best and probably much worse.

David V. Bowen
Canterbury, England

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