When Science Influencers Polarize Our Politics

After this thread’s most recent digression, it occurred to me that I had not commented on the thread’s original topic, and so re-read the OP article.

Something stuck out at me, in context of Pielke’s opening quote:

Remember who the enemy is: Republicans

Michael E. Mann, climate scientist, September 2023

The quote above comes from a recent Tweet by Michael Mann, the climate scientist who is arguably the most visible and influential influencer in the climate science community.

Nowhere in the proceeding article does Pielke explain how Mann became “arguably the most visible and influential influencer in the climate science community” and how this might have, perfectly legitimately, given him a profoundly negative opinion of climate skeptics.

This omitted context can be found, in excruciating detail, in such Wikipedia articles as:

In that context, Mann’s viewpoint, although perhaps extreme, becomes far more explicable. That context does however undercut Pielke’s thesis of Mann “polariz[ing] our politics” – as a less tendentious interpretation would rather be that politics polarized Mann.

In Mann’s own words:

I had no choice but to enter the fray. I was hounded by elected officials, threatened with violence and more — after a single study I co-wrote a decade and a half ago found that the Northern Hemisphere’s average warmth had no precedent in at least the past 1,000 years.[1]

Omitting this context would appear to display the same level of chutzpah as somebody who, having killed both their parents, throws themselves on the mercy of the court for being an orphan.


It would appear that Pielke is likewise a “polarizing” figure:

Roger Pielke Jr, the political scientist recently hired by Nate Silver’s new FiveThirtyEight “data journalism” venture, has a long record of harsh criticisms of the climate science community, impugning the motives, ethics, and honesty of climate scientists and communicators.[2]

This includes past run-ins with Mann himself:

“Pielke’s piece is deeply misleading, confirming some of my worst fears that Nate Silver’s new venture may become yet another outlet for misinformation when it comes to the issue of human-caused climate change,” said Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University.[3]


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An Israeli private investigator who orchestrated a global hacking operation that targeted American climate activists and foundations was sentenced in federal court to nearly seven years in prison after pleading guilty.

Prosecutors said the theft of identities and personal data from victims resulted in some of them describing a “psychological assault” that left them with “anxiety, paranoia, depression, sleeplessness and fear” and the sense that their personal safety was in jeopardy.

And we are surprised that this sort of activity leads climate scientists and climate activists to view climate deniers as “the enemy”?


Hi Dan
As a statistician what are your thoughts on this issue they mention that effects the accuracy of the modeling modeling. This is from the first paper the author cited.

At all spatial scales, the climate response is forced by anthropogenic drivers, which are external to the climate system. This response occurs against a background of natural climate variability (i.e., internal to the climate system). Such variability is generated by natural processes, for example, by atmosphere–ocean interaction (e.g., El Niño and La Niña events), atmosphere–land interaction, or chaotic variability within the atmosphere itself. Depending on the sequencing and magnitude of natural variability and the magnitude of the climate change response, natural variability can mask the climate change signal, amplify it, or be overwhelmed by it. Natural variability therefore adds uncertainty to climate change projections. Because the sequencing of natural variability is largely unpredictable, this component of uncertainty in climate change projections is irreducible. This is in contrast with the uncertainty associated with the climate change response, which arises from lack of information about future greenhouse gas and aerosol emissions, as well as incomplete understanding of climate processes and associated limitations in terms of how well models reproduced observed changes. These are knowledge gaps that can, in principle, be filled (KM 3.2).

I appears to be a description of the problem they are trying to solve, stating the points their analysis will try to address. This likely appears early in the paper, prior to diving into the methods and results.

Am I right?

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It’s the good ole “point to uncertainty in the models” therefore “you can’t know nuffin” response.


Not sure still trying understand how to get a good hypothesis here. What I am very encouraged about is the honest sharing of the challenges in the cited papers.

I recently read a little about Mann’s attempt to understand the causal effects of increased CO2 where he looks at historic events and breaks them into small pieces. I think this could lead to stronger consensus especially internationally.

This looks much more promising than the big models which not only have the problem of non human drivers creating noise as mentioned above but have the accuracy limitations of large regressions.

I would be very interested in help understanding Mann’s methods and your take on its merits.

You task here is much simpler. Does the quoted section appear in the introductory section, before the results, of after?

It is typical for papers to introduce the subject by describing the difficulties that have occurred with previous literature and the problems that need to be solved. This is because journals are looking for original research address questions that have not yet been solved, or new questions that have arisen from those previous results. It’s hard to get published for answering questions others have already addressed. Therefore authors generally start by trying to justify the need for their new work by pointing out gaps in current knowledge.

These are knowledge gaps that can, in principle, be filled (KM 3.2).

If you introduce your research as a problem that has already been solve, no journal will publish it unless there is value in replicating those results. Reviewers may point out similarities to existing work, which lead to rejection or revision of the paper.
There is a saying, “A few hours in the library will save you a few months in the laboratory.” There first step for any researcher is always to hit the library to see if anyone else has already answered the question.


None of the above. It’s not a research paper, it’s from:

The Fifth National Climate Assessment

The Fifth National Climate Assessment is the US Government’s preeminent report on climate change impacts, risks, and responses. It is a congressionally mandated interagency effort that provides the scientific foundation to support informed decision-making across the United States.

Bill is quoting from Chapter 3 “Earth System Processes”, Section 4 " Humans Are Changing Earth System Processes", that begins by just stating the sources and causes of uncertainty in models. It doesn’t anywhere state or imply those uncertainties means any of the conclusions of the report are in any way wrong, unsupported, or improperly stated or otherwise.


And @colewd was able to find one single phrase in that entire, voluminous document that would somehow justify his belief that it casts doubt on anthropogenic climate change.

There is no bottom with this guy.


Speaking as somebody with some background in statistics, I would suspect that most Statisticians would be surprised, and more than a little skeptical, of real-world data that didn’t contain “Natural Variability” (the title of the section you are quoting) or similar ‘noise’. This variability or noise is, after all, the precise reason why we have statistical models, and statisticians.

If you had bothered to read the rest of that section, you would have seen that the authors give detailed discussion of the effects of this variability, including this chart:

Given this pre-existing discussion, I cannot help but consider your question to be sealioning.

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12 posts were split to a new topic: Side comments on Climate

You guys know that answering questions for him only encourages more of the same, right? Let Bill do his own work.


It’s like picking a scab, eh? You know it’ll just prolong the pain, but…


And then ok, now what?
Let’s keep it going if it benefits our side?

Should he be granted a pass based on this?
Would you expect Roger Pielke Jr to keep his mouth shut based on the correct response to that question?
Tu quoque much?

How exactly can it be stopped? The hyper-partisan right has a strong grip on the Republican Party and Pielke doesn’t offer any solutions. How do you suggest fixing it?

Because it was the very Republicans that Pielke is excoriating Mann for calling “the enemy” that politicised it.

Then we acknowledge that Pielke’s thesis that Mann is “polariz[ing] our politics” is, to say the least, grossly inaccurate.

A pass for what exactly? For considering the Republican officials who hounded him, and the Republican base who sent him threats of violence to be “the enemy”? I think they’ve already proved themselves to be Mann’s enemy by their own actions.

I would expect, if Roger Pielke Jr were genuinely the “honest broker” :face_vomiting: he claims to be, that he would acknowledge (i) that the politics of climate change had been “polarized” by Republicans long before Mann’s tweet, and (ii) that Pielke himself has contributed to that polarization.

Not so much. :roll_eyes:

More like a rebuttal of victim-blaming.


Because we want to correctly place responsibility on the people to blame? It actually does matter, morally and otherwise, who started it. Now realizing that alone won’t solve the problem, but we certainly shouldn’t just ignore it or pretend it doesn’t matter. Or worse, put blame on the wrong people.

Then we realize we shouldn’t listen to those people, stop voting them into positions of power, try to understand the economic interests that created the problem in the first place, and we try to prevent similar things from happening again in the future by being informed about what tricks and methods they used to create the polarizations in the first place, such as “look, there’s a lot of communists who believe in climate change.”

If we are on the side that are actually in the right about the science and this actually has the effect of convincing people anthropogenic climate change is a reality and to take steps to curtail it, yes, obviously. Keep going!

A pass? I don’t think he’s done anything wrong here. Scientists, as individuals, can have and are allowed to express political opinions.

Have I asked someone to keep their mouth shut?

What a deliciously ironic question.