For the Second Day in a Row

For the second day in a row Mark Morano has issued a press release from Senator Inhofe’s office essentially reporting that I make an equivalence between criticizing Al Gore and responsibility for 1000 deaths. Unfortunately for me I said something vaguely like that, but it’s being oversimplified.

How did Morano make a second press release out of it? Well, he announced that Glenn Beck had made a story out of it, a story that wasn’t much different than Morano’s first press release. Talk about an echo chamber.

Here’s Glenn Beck’s TV version (note the strategically placed egghead-mockery):

He’s appalled that Pielke would equate George Will and the almighty Al Gore. He says, quote: As for the scope of the ethical risk, let’s consider the possibility that the behavior of the Times and the Post this year increases the chance of an extreme event with a premature mortality of a billion people by a near part per billion and a percent of a percent and a percent. Oh, I love my beakers. Hang on. Sometimes I just like to hold them. I cuddle with them. This one I’ve named Ronald, Ronald my friendly beaker. I’m sorry, got to go back to typing. The expected mortality from this is 1,000 people. Is that mortality equivalent to actually killing 1,000 people? It’s not all that obvious to me that it isn’t.

Wait a minute. So you’re saying comparing George Will to Al Gore as somebody who exaggerates about global warming is equivalent to killing 1,000 people? “Yes, pretty much. You like my lab coat?” Scientists believe that saying Al Gore exaggerates is equal to killing 1,000 people. Well, if that is true — you know what, we should keep track of the Glenn Beck death count because I have a feeling if we counted all the times that I made fun of Al Gore, I might be equal in deaths with Stalin.

Haha. Stalin humor.

Here is what I actually said, deep in the comments to the thread about Roger Pielke. Now I wish I hadn’t said it, since it blew up in my face like this, but see if you think that was a fair representation:

Implying an equivalence between Gore, who is constantly treading a fine line between effective politics and truthful description of risks, and George Will, who is wrong from beginning to end in conception, detail and emphasis is unacceptable because it perpetuates this dangerous skew.

As for the scope of the ethical risk, let us consider the possibility that the behavior of the Times and the Post this year increases the chance of an extreme event with a premature mortality of a billion people by a mere part per million, a per cent of a per cent of a per cent. The expected mortality from this is a thousand people. Is that morally equivalent to actually killing a thousand people? It’s not all that obvious to me that it isn’t.

In practice one can and must excuse oneself behind all the myriad realistic uncertainties. We don’t know, after all, which butterfly will cause the hurricane. Most likely if we do find our way to hell, we will have trodden on many good intentions along the way.

But the point is that we really are playing with fire here and we shouldn’t be putting our own careers or our own self-worth (like a clever and easy column for the Times) ahead of the enormous scope of the problem, because mortalities on the order of a billion are by no means excluded.

Update: It was not enough to interject some idiocy into the middle of the quote and get the details wrong. Beck cut me off in the middle of the argument. Then he summarized my position quite wrongly.

The “pretty much, yeah” was already a stretch. I only posed the question, I didn’t provide the answer. And if you look further up the thread, you’ll see I stipulated that the person making the comparison did not actually believe it.

Then Beck announced that “Scientists believe that saying Al Gore exaggerates is equal to killing 1,000 people”. This has become the headline propagated hither and yon around the world. It has no resemblance to my actual beliefs and is a very unfair representation of what I said. To make matters worse, the accompanying commentary usually comes attached not only to myself but also to the name of my employer, embarrassing and damaging the institution along with myself.

Please. How would you like to have something like that hung round your neck on national TV?

I never said or believed that. Nor did anybody else as far as I know.

I note Beck issues it in the plural. “ScientistS“??? I suppose if pressed Beck will have to come up with somebody else who never said it too.


Late Update (March 10) For those interested in the sequence of events that got me in such trouble, these are the key events. I realize it’s more than anyone would want to take in in one sitting, but there are fascinating nuggets all through the saga.

1) The the George Will Controversy was just about everywhere. I piled on, myself.

2) meanwhile, Roger Pielke Jr’s criticism of the Gore slide

3) Andy Revkin’s false balance column

4) my critique of Andy’s column

5) Brad Johnson’s critique of Andy’s column

6) My ill-fated attempt to defuse Brad’s sideswipe at Pielke . I get into trouble deep in the comments, as quoted in the article you are now reading.

7) Keith Kloor’s oddly timed attack on me (I like Keith but: 1) I believe he misunderstood my statistical use of the word “expected” 2) I had never heard of him before this, nor, I suspect, he of me.) Keith truncates my argument in the middle as well as missing the point.

8) Pielke’s view of my explanation of moral implications of Revkin’s false balance. (Can Pielke also not have understood the statistical argument? He has an undergrad in math and grew up around climatologists.) Also truncates my argument in the middle, at best misses the point, even though he has read the original. Concludes provocatively, in response to my query “I’d sure like to know how I gave ammunition to my enemies”, “Anyone care to give him an answer?”

9) Glenn Beck’s attack based on Morano’s press release, presumably based on Pielke’s article.

10) I admit that Pielke has demonstrated that my comments contain ammunition for my enemies.

11) Arthur Smith’s eloquent defense of me

12) my first stunned reaction

13) my second stunned reaction

14) recapitulation at Kloor’s

see also

15) Joe Romm’s defense of Gore

16) Eli Rabett’s defense of Gore

17) Arthur Smith’s retelling of the story

18) John Fleck’s comparison of Gore and Will

19) my own comparison of Gore and Will

Yes, a veritable treasure trove of blogstorming!


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