A Climate Science Headache

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I have a piece up on the main site today about the coming climate science witch hunt now that Republicans will be back in control of the House next year.

In what I took as a sign of hope, the Los Angeles Times reported this morning that the American Geophysical Union plans to launch a coordinated effort to push back against climate change deniers. But now AGU says that story is “inaccurate.” While the group says it is planning to re-launch a climate science Q&A program it started last year for journalists covering the United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen, there is no wider program to defend the science in the works:

“In contrast to what has been reported in the LA Times and elsewhere, there is no campaign by AGU against climate skeptics or congressional conservatives,” says Christine McEntee, Executive Director and CEO of the American Geophysical Union. “AGU will continue to provide accurate scientific information on Earth and space topics to inform the general public and to support sound public policy development.”

AGU is the world’s largest, not-for-profit, professional society of Earth and space scientists, with more than 58,000 members in over 135 countries. “AGU is a scientific society, not an advocacy organization,” says climate scientist and AGU President Michael J. McPhaden. “The organization is committed to promoting scientific discovery and to disseminating to the scientific community, policy makers, the media, and the public, peer-reviewed scientific findings across a broad range of Earth and space sciences.&quote

I’m disappointed that the leading scientific professional group for climate scientists isn’t taking up the effort outlined in the Times. But more importantly, I’m troubled by the idea that AGU set up in this press release by creating a delineation between “a scientific society” and “an advocacy organization.” This statement makes it appear that any effort to fight skeptics on climate science would by nature be “advocacy” work, and that a scientific group, by extension, should not then participate in it.

This only serves to affirm the talking point of climate change deniers that scientists who take the time to explain the science and refute lies and misinformation are engaging in “activism.” The repetition of this false association by such an esteemed scientific group is problematic.

UPDATE: The Guardian gets the story right. AGU is relaunching its climate Q&A program, and a separate group of climate scientists is planning the rapid response effort. More here. Glad this other effort I underway, though I still think that the wording in the AGU release is troubling. That said, both this outside effort by climate science titans like Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton University, and the AGU work are invaluable tools in the communication battle over climate science.

More MotherJones reporting on Climate Desk

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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