Oreskes, Mann, Dessler et al. versus Koonin

Earlier today Scientific American published an article entitled “That ‘Obama Scientist’ Climate Skeptic You’ve Been Hearing About“. The climate skeptic in question being of course Steven E. Koonin. If you click that last link it will be immediately obvious that I’ve recently been critical of Professor Koonin’s new book “Unsettled” in several more ways than one! The article in Scientific American is authored by several more people than one. Twelve to be precise, including the famous names of Naomi Oreskes, Michael E. Mann and Andrew Dessler. That team takes a largely different approach to my own criticism, making no mention of the cryosphere for example, although sea level rise does get a mention. Rather than going into the science in detail, Oreskes et al. take a different approach. Here’s the introduction to the article:

If you’d heard only that a scientist who served in the Trump administration and now regularly appears on Fox News and other conservative media thinks climate change is a hoax, you’d roll your eyes and move on. But if you heard that someone associated with former President Barack Obama’s Democratic administration was calling the climate science consensus a conspiracy, the novelty of the messenger might make you take it a little more seriously.

The latter is what Steve Koonin is using to sell his new book, which is being billed as the revelation of an “Obama scientist” who wants you to think that climate change isn’t a big deal. But unfortunately, climate change is real, is caused primarily by burning fossil fuels, and is already hurting people all over the world, including here in the United States. 

For example, a study published recently found that because climate change has caused sea levels to rise, Superstorm Sandy flooded an additional 36,000 homes, impacting 71,000 people who would’ve been safe otherwise, and caused $8 billion in additional damage.

A little later the article suggests that:

Steve Koonin is hoping you’ll see Obama’s name and trust him when he tells you that he’s better equipped to summarize major climate reports than the authors of the U.N.’s IPCC report and the U.S. government’s National Climate Assessment, who wrote at length about the already sizable and growing costs of climate change. He’s hoping you won’t recall that each president appoints thousands of people, and Koonin, it turns out, was hired at the Energy Department specifically for his contrarianism. His boss at the time, Stephen Chu, said he “didn’t want to have a department where everybody believed exactly as everybody else” and added that Koonin “loves to be the curmudgeon type.”

Curmudgeon or not, Steve’s science certainly leaves a lot to be desired, as has been proved here! Oreskes et al. put it this way:

When it comes to the science, Koonin cherry-picks and misrepresents outdated material to downplay the seriousness of the climate crisis…

He wants you to believe that, as an Obama hire, he knows better about what you should take away from these reports than the scientists who wrote them.

That sums things up quite nicely, although the article doesn’t actually contain a whole lot of evidence for the first assertion, what Steve refers to as “The Science”. Instead it prefers to link to the Climate Feedback article mentioned here at the Great White Con back at the beginning of May and two articles by Marianne Lavelle in Inside Climate News.

However towards the end of the article, in true “Merchants of Doubt” style, following the money trail behind the promotion of “Unsettled” is mentioned:

The misrepresentations cited as appearing in Koonin’s book are being amplified in right-wing media and beyond. A recent Washington Post column by conservative contributor Marc Thiessen repeats several points Koonin makes… 

Thiessen is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. For those unfamiliar with the tangled world of organized climate denial, a recent study paints a pretty clear picture: of all the conservative, climate-denying think tanks that get Koch and other industry funding, AEI has gotten the most. It received some $380 million to peddle industry-friendly denial like Koonin’s, much of it through dark money pass-throughs to conceal that it’s coming from conservative and dirty-energy donors. 

Be all that as it may, in conclusion let’s get back to the cryospheric science. Here’s how I first found out about the Scientific American article, and Steve Koonin and/or Judith Curry still haven’t answered my pertinent questions about the unsettling lack of Arctic scientific expertise evident in “Unsettled”:

2 thoughts on “Oreskes, Mann, Dessler et al. versus Koonin

  1. What a sad piece of propaganda this article is. I warn friends that thanks to articles like this, the true state of the climate debate, and the latest climate science findings, are nearly impossible to identify with clarity and confidence! I actually read Koonin’s book…..and unless this crew of propagandists of Oreskes, et al can single out a single Koonin point and successfully argue scientifically against it, they are just whistling past the graveyard. Climate alarmism is an exercise in dis-information….and more citizens each day have figured that out!

    1. Good morning Paul (UTC),

      I have argued scientifically at length against several of the points Steve Koonin attempts to make in his book, which is itself an “exercise in dis-information”.

      Certain well known Great British “climate skeptics” have even echoed one of my own criticisms!


      Although Unsettled covers a broad spectrum of climate topics, it does not treat in depth the issue of recent polar sea-ice trends, which are key indicators of changes in the global climate.

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