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Reply to Steven Newton, “The Alternative Reality of the Heartland Institute’s ‘NIPCC’ Report,” October 28, 2013
The National Center for Science Education has adopted as part of its mission the task of attacking researchers and commentators who question the biased and alarmist position on global warming staked out by the Obama administration and environmental advocacy groups, so Steven Newton’s highly critical essay comes as no surprise. But it is filled with inaccurate statements that require correction.
Newton claims the similarity of the names of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) and the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is intended to confuse readers. This is untrue. NIPCC was created to conduct an audit of the science used by the IPCC, so incorporating the IPCC’s acronym into its own name is appropriate. Dr. Fred Singer, acting on the advice of Dr. Frederick Seitz (one of the world’s most distinguished scientists, who died in 2008), chose the name to underscore the fact that NIPCC is a council of scientists with no affiliation with any government organization and receives no government funding. The IPCC, in contrast, is a government entity. NIPCC’s history and mission are explained fully on the first page of the NIPCC Summary for Policymakers. The word “Nongovernmental” is even bold-faced on the NIPCC letterhead to avoid any possible confusion.
Newton takes exception to the statement in Summary for Policymakers (SPM) of the NIPCC report that NIPCC is “…wholly independent of political pressures and influences and therefore is not predisposed to produce politically motivated conclusions or policy recommendations.” This is important to say because the IPCC is just the opposite. The IPCC by design is limited in what it does by the Framework Convention on Climate Change of the United Nations. That convention defines climate change as change produced not by all greenhouse gas emissions, but by human greenhouse gas emissions. Government officials – politicians and people nominated by politicians – rewrite the IPCC’s SPM line-by-line and make changes to fit their political agendas, and then the report itself is revised to “comply” with the SPM.
Far from being a “fig leaf” or “tiniest slice of information,” as Newton claims, the NIPCC report is more than 1,000 pages long, written by 47 authors from 15 countries, and cites nearly 4,000 peer-reviewed articles. It is every bit as comprehensive and authoritative as the IPCC reports. Because it is produced by independent scientists and not governments, it is more credible than the IPCC’s political documents. Given the NIPCC report’s heft, it’ll take more to disprove its conclusions than pointing to a discredited blogger’s site.
The cover letter to teachers accompanying NIPCC’s SPM included this statement: “You have an important decision to make. Will you tell your students the “science is settled” on global warming, as the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) claims it is? Or will you explain to them that real science is never settled?” Sounds reasonable, but Newton claims “this message is profoundly anti-science.” In fact, it is entirely in keeping with a rich tradition of skepticism in science, from the Royal Society’s motto, Nullius in verba, meaning “take nobody’s word for it,” to Richard Feynman’s admonition, “It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.”
NIPCC and The Heartland Institute don’t want to “give up on the entire scientific adventure of understanding the natural world,” as Newton claims. What is more likely to stand in the way of that “scientific adventure”? Brushing off our hands and saying the science is settled? Or continuing the adventure by listening to a panel of distinguished scientists who question the hypothesis at the root of the global debate over global warming?
The Heartland Institute