New Book on Climate Change by a Democratic former Obama Science Administrator

I came across a new book (dated 2021) by Steven Koonin, “Former Undersecretary for Science, U.S. Department of Energy, Under the Obama Administration”. The opening of the book can be read using the Look Inside feature on, at:

In the excerpt, the author, a physicist by training who did work on climate change issues under the Obama administration, declares that the Democratic Party is the one where he has “long felt most comfortable politically”. So he no Donald Trump supporter, and not even a moderate Republican, but writes as a man of the left. He has written the book to explain what exactly is known and not known about the causes of climate change, so that the public can better understand the grounds of various political and economic policies, current and proposed, which seek to respond to climate change.

Not having read the book yet, I will express no opinion on its quality, but having read the excerpt, I can say that its tone seems level and moderate, and that Koonin seems to be interested in getting at the scientific truth and presenting the public with information without emotionally charged language, hyperbole, etc. He writes with clarity, and he presents definitions, maps, graphs, etc. in a way that should be helpful to lay people who are not trained scientists but want to learn about the issues.

This might be an ideal book for people who think climate change is real and that human activity contributes to it, but who are unsure which of the many conflicting statements about climate change presented by the media, political figures, and partisan activists are reliable, and which unreliable.

This one will probably go on my Christmas list.

Steven Koonin is not a climate scientist, and has strong ties to the fossil fuel industry. He gets nearly every aspect of climate science wrong in ways that make it impossible to conclude anything other than gross incompetence or blatant dishonesty. With a strong possibility of both.


You have read this book, then? Not skimmed the excerpt, but read the entire book?

I’m assuming you would not judge the argument of a book you have not read.

Oh, wait, I forgot where I am…

If you can post about the book without reading it, then it seems perfectly fair for others to comment without reading it. If your only intent is to start a fight I can go ahead and close the thread now.


I’d assume that, too. But did @CrisprCAS9 say he’d read the book and was responding to it? Perhaps he has, and is; but his comment is equally consistent with his being already familiar with Koonin’s views.

Surely if Stephen Meyer comes out with a new book tomorrow, one doesn’t have to stop calling him the liar that he is until one has read his latest, does one? It surely would be wrong to say that his new book is stuffed with lies until one had confirmed that highly-likely fact. But it would not be wrong to point out that his views are known to be completely ludicrous falsehoods.


The real experts speak. Enjoy.


No. The two cases are not parallel. I posted about the book without offering an opinion on whether its arguments were good or bad. The response was from someone who implied (or seemed to imply) that the arguments of the book were bad. That claim should not be made (or implied) by someone who hasn’t read the book.

No, my intention was not to start a fight, but to offer the news that a Democratic insider had written what appears to be a level-toned book on the subject of climate change. The response of the commenter above was a gauntlet-throwing one. So if you want to charge someone with trying to start a fight, I suggest you speak to the person who threw the gauntlet.

I have read about half the book. You need to be aware that it is very controversial - when I searched for the title on Amazon I got several books arguing against it before I found it. I think there is a lot to commend in the parts I read but unfortunately some who disbelieve anthropogenic climate change quote selectively from the book.

1 Like

I know the argument, it’s in the title. The argument is wrong. As is his presentation of the science. Because Koonin is either incompetent or dishonest or both. A fact that you’ve declined to address, for reasons too obvious to note politely.


No, I commented on the author. Who has a history of making false statements through either gross incompetence or blatant dishonesty.

Calling Koonin a ‘Democratic insider’ is silly.

Are you under the impression that tone is relevant to truth? Can something be level-toned and wrong?


Good. I wish others here would follow your example before commenting on books.

I’m sure the author intended it to be so, based on the excerpted introduction on Amazon. I didn’t intend to suggest that nothing was controversial in the book or that the book was correct. I just thought it was interesting that a Democrat and civil servant under Obama would write a book that calls for a dispassionate approach, rather than a hysterical approach, to discussing climate change. People in these debates are always saying that so-and-so is obviously a biased Republican or biased Trump supporter and so on. I don’t think one could say that about this author. He could still be wrong on some of the things he says in the book, but if so, the errors wouldn’t spring from right-wing bias. So his arguments have to be met on their own terms.

Yet what was the first response to my announcement?

We see here appeal to formal credentials, which Harshman and Mercer are always telling people is wrong (since someone might not originally be trained in an area but might later come to know a lot about it), and we see argumentum ad hominem (he has strong ties to the fossil fuel industry, therefore the data he presents must be false and/or his conclusions must be wrong). No interest at all, apparently, in learning what evidence or argument the author actually presents in the book. There’s a leap to a judgment against the author’s conclusions in the book, before those conclusions are known and before any of the arguments that sustain the conclusions are read. Is this the way they teach grad students in evolutionary biology to argue? Would appeals to credentialism and to hypothetical motives count as admissible arguments in a peer-reviewed evolutionary biology paper?

Thanks for this information; it gives me even more reason to get the book and read it.

That is probably true, but it should not be held against the author. If he’s trying to be the voice of cool reason, of balance, etc., and partisans from one side or the other take isolated remarks from the book and use them as weapons, how is he responsible? His introduction suggests that such partisan activity is the sort of thing he is trying to reduce, by getting down to the unvarnished facts. I admire people who attempt this. Whether he succeeds in the attempt, I won’t know until I have read the book, but the attempt to replace partisan passion with knowledge is a good thing.

Again, Eddie, you grossly misrepresent my position, which is that that training is less important than accomplishments. That’s how real experts “come to know a lot about” things.

For example, @glipsnort is an world-class expert in population genetics and evolutionary biology (particularly that of SARS-CoV-2), despite being his PhD training being in experimental particle physics.

Doing is the most important credential, even for academics despite that famous right-wing trope. Your desperate emphasis on training and ignoring accomplishments speaks volumes.

So, has Koonin done any climatology research?


I don’t see how you got to “left” there. Obama is in the center of the political spectrum. If you disagree, please point out differences on any left-right spectrum between him and say, Eisenhower.


I am neither of those people. Perhaps you should have tagged them, so that they might criticize me.

First it would have been a genetic fallacy, not an ad hominem. It would be good for you to know the difference before opening your mouth in the future. Second, it isn’t even that, because that would require I actually made the argument. Which I didn’t. So you’ve managed to be wrong twice in a single sentence. Nice work.

Implying that I don’t know what is in the book. Reading minds, are we?

It isn’t my fault you’ve been conned by a charlatan, I’m just letting others know.


This seems like a revealing sentence. Eddie implies that a Democrate speaking on the subject would be expected to be hysterical. One could ask for evidence of this intriguing proposition, but I suppose hysteria is in the eye of the beholder. And by “hysterical” Eddie really means “disagreeing with Eddie”. Typical Eddie.

Oh, and he appeals to me for support. One tires of the sanctimony.


News flash: Eisenhower has been dead for quite some time now. I was talking about current alignments. In the current situation, there is hardly any “center” left, everything is so polarized. But roughly speaking, virtually all Democrats are on the left, even if some are more “center-left” as opposed to “farther left.”

It’s you who doesn’t understand the difference. You think they are two entirely different things. In fact, the genetic fallacy is a subdivision of ad hominem arguments. See Copi, 4th edition, p. 75, Siu-Fan Lee, Logic: A Complete Introduction, p. 89, and Schaum’s, Second Edition, 8.2.1.

That’s right; you didn’t make the argument. You left it to the reader here to make the connection and infer your meaning. But what you wanted them to infer was plain.

If you’ve read the book, say you’ve read it. If you haven’t read it, admit you haven’t read it. Then the basis of your reaction against the book will be clear.

Since I haven’t read the book and don’t know what it concludes, I can’t possibly have been conned by its author.

No, it is not. The title does not indicate what is settled and what is unsettled. In order to know what Koonin regards as settled or unsettled, one would have to read the contents of the book, not the title.

It does not guarantee the possession of truth, but it is often suggestive of an attitude toward truth, i.e., the attitude that truth is more likely to come about through calm reasoning and calm examination of facts than through the exchange of combative and hyperbolic statements. Very little truth is arrived at on sites like this, because they tend to attract people with hard-line positions who enter the conversation in order to score victories rather than to join in a collegial search for truth. If you compare the tone in Koonin’s introduction to the tone in typical posts here, you will find a palpable difference. I don’t know what conclusions Koonin comes to, but based on his introduction (which is all I have to go on, not having read a line of his writing anywhere else), I think he would be much less likely to deliberately mislead me regarding climate change than 95% of the people posting here. His tone is gentlemanly and scholarly, as opposed to swaggering and barroom brawling. So I intend to read the book. Whether I will agree with it once I have read it, I cannot say.

Not so - one can obviously be a climate scientist without having formal credentials, or have formal credentials but not be a climate scientist (e.g. by having found medicine to be a more lucrative career).

An appeal to formal credentials would look like this:
Steve Meyer has a Ph.D. in the philosophy of science from Cambridge; Paul Nelson has a Ph.D. in philosophy of biology from Chicago; Jonathan Wells has a Ph.D. in developmental biology plus another Ph.D. in Religion from Yale,

or this:
I looked up Sarfati’s biographical information on It lists his degrees in science. It makes no mention of any degrees, or any training at all, in theology or related subjects. I see no mention of a BA, an MA, a PhD in a theology-related subject, or an MDiv.

or this:
You need to read the essays of Paul Nelson on this subject. He has a Ph.D. in the Philosophy of Biology from the University of Chicago, and his supervisor was a Chicago evolutionary biologist.

or this:
Both Nelson and Meyer have Ph.D.s in the philosophy of science, which doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, but they are familiar with the subject, and what they write at least deserves a hearing.

or what is perhaps the quintessential appeal to formal qualifications:
You have a B.A. in Classics; I have a Ph.D. in Religion from what was at the time the fifth-ranked doctoral program in North America.

It’s odd that you don’t know what an appeal to formal credentials looks like.

You’ve been conned into (i) buying it and (ii) suggesting others buy it. That’s all a conman would care about.


But you will most likely get conned by it eventually. You were conned by Susan Crockford, Steve McIntyre, Ross Mckritick, Judith Curry etcetera so its extremely unlikely you won’t get conned by Koonin.


I didn’t say they were entirely different, I said that an argument against a conclusion based on the genesis of that conclusion is a genetic fallacy, not an ad hominem. Ad hominems include an element of attack (see Bowell & Kemp 2010, p 210). Also, you should note that, even allowing that it is an ad hom, not all ad hominems are fallacious (in Walton 2008, p 190-4). Especially those that reveal bias.

I wanted people to be aware that the author is both philosophically and economically biased against climate change. Which is entirely relevant to his credibility as a source on the topic of climate change. I did not want people to infer anything about his arguments because of these things, that would be silly. Only the latter is an argument, and I neither said nor implied the latter, so it was not an argument explicitly or implicitly.

One might wonder why you chose to omit the information. Either you were aware of this bias and decided to not mention it, which would be dishonest, or you weren’t aware because you declined to do the relevant due diligence before posting. Much like Koonin, one might note.

I’ve read enough of it to confirm that he is either dishonest or incompetent.

Almost true. You haven’t actually purchased the book yet, so it is still a bit early to say you’ve been conned. But once the charlatan has your money, it’s fair to say they have conned you. So let me know when you buy a copy…

“Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters”

The argument is that a significant portion of climate science is unsettled, is presented as settled, and this unduly impacts people’s appraisal of climate change. Which specific bits he might claim to be settled or unsettled is irrelevant to the argument itself, which is about the impact of the presentation of the field as settled.

This interpretation of his argument is supported by the Amazon blurb, every review I’ve seen, and the introduction of the book.

This argument is wrong.

Many people manage to match both the calm presentation of Koonin’s introduction. Some also match his complete disregard for facts, evidence, and reason. Sometimes in the same posts!

Also, the fact that you’ve read his introduction and concluded that

I revise my assessment of

You’ve absolutely been conned by the author.

Take this as an example (emphasis in the original):

For example, both the research literature and government reports that summarize and assess the state of climate science say clearly that heat waves in the US are now no more common than they were in 1900, and that the warmest temperatures in the US have not risen in the past fifty years.

I’m betting if I could find a map of municipal divisions color coded by the date of their record high, we’d see a strong bias towards the past 20 years as well.

Greenland’s ice sheet isn’t shrinking any more rapidly today than it was eighty years ago.

Why 80, not 90 or 70? Because there was a short period of rapid melting in the 1930s. But this did not result in mass loss by the ice sheet, since it was internal melting, unlike the current day. So saying it isn’t ‘shrinking more rapidly’ is both intentionally misleading and factually wrong.

His claims about the climate and climate science are like this throughout his introduction. Wrong, and in such a way that it can really only be intentionally dishonesty.

But hey, he was calm when he lied, so he’s got that going for him right?


The last eight words contain the error. An argument can be both. In this case, the argument you were implying (but lacked the conversational courage to make explicitly) is both. Any attempt to persuade someone that statement X is false, on the basis that Mr. So-and-So who made the statement has (or does not have) certain associations (professional, occupational, political, etc.) is an ad hominem argument – an argument that substitutes an attack on the alleged defects or biases of the person for a substantive response to the contents of the statement. And of course, since the person is the source of the statement, the word “genetic” is also appropriate. This is why the Logic reference books I cited treat the genetic fallacy as a branch of the more general category of ad hominem argumentation. I am not disputing your use of the phrase “genetic fallacy”, but your “correction” regarding “ad hominem” was itself incorrect.

Puck here will be glad to receive your information that he has been “conned.” He has reviewed a dozen or more ID books on Amazon, and I would guess that in at least some of those cases he has purchased the book in order to read it.

He doesn’t say in the excerpt how much is unsettled, and so the phrase “a significant portion” is of uncertain meaning. To nail down the size of “a significant portion” it would be necessary to read the book. But we’ve already established here, when other books have been discussed, that a good number of people are quite willing to make assumptions about what’s in books they haven’t read. Apparently it’s possible to go a long way in science without ever having been taught by any of one’s science teachers that such a procedure is academically and intellectually indefensible.