Oregon Petition

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A dirty dozen gems about

Denialism

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Not just a river in Egypt

The Oregon Petition—also known as The Global Warming Petition Project—claims to have signatures from 31,072 scientists who deny the existence of anthropogenic global warming. It is probably the best known and most frequently quoted petition used by those who wish to deny there is a scientific consensus in respect of the existence of anthropogenic global warming.

Contents

Verifiability? Eh? What's that?

What the "petition" does in fact have is (approximately) 31,072 largely unverifiable signatures on slips of paper[1] which um... isn't really exactly the same thing.

The barely legible sample signature on the example slip used by the project could be read to be "Edward Teller", who presumably signed posthumously,[2] and the word "physics" looks like it was scrawled by a six-year-old. It would obviously be impossible to verify data provided in such a format, and it looks like an invitation for every Tom, Dick and Harry who holds an opinion to send in a form and claim to be a Ph.D.

All it takes is a scribble, and you too can have a Ph.D.!

The Seattle Times reported that it includes names such as: "Perry S. Mason" (the fictitious lawyer), "Michael J. Fox" (the actor), "Robert C. Byrd" (the senator), "John C. Grisham" (the lawyer-author), not to mention the Spice Girl, a.k.a. Geraldine Halliwell: the petition listed "Dr. Geri Halliwell" and "Dr. Halliwell".[3] In an interview the petition's organizer, Arthur Robinson, said, "When we're getting thousands of signatures there's no way of filtering out a fake." Scientific American examined the list and came to the conclusion that a large percentage of the alleged Ph, D. signatures probably are fake.[4]

Notwithstanding its rather dubious methodology and fake names, that bastion of scientific rigor, Fox News, has quoted the petition in its news stories.[5]

Specialist in Everything

However, even if one were to assume that every single signature the petition has gathered was genuine, the petition fails in three other regards:

  • The validity of science is determined by the veracity of the evidence, not the number of people who think a scientific proposition is true. Thus the petition is little more than a fallacious argument from popularity.
  • Even if scientific truth could be derived from the people who accept it, the number of signatures is only a small fraction of all scientists.
  • Even by the admission and records of the petition itself, only a tiny fraction of the people who signed the petition hold a degree in any field relevant or related to climatology, with the plurality of signatures coming from Engineers[6]. The petition might as well be from the general public.

Genesis

The Oregon Petition was initiated by Arthur B. Robinson in conjunction with Frederick Seitz.

Originally, Arthur Robinson had been a partner of Linus Pauling until the two had a nasty falling out in 1978, and was apparently an accomplished biochemist during the 1970s. (Linus Pauling was the scientist largely responsible for the now-discredited theory that vitamin C in large doses is a cure-all.) Robinson's falling out with Pauling had to do with two things: Pauling's left-wing politics and peace activism clashing with Robinson's conservatism, and, more significantly Robinson finding evidence contradicting Pauling's data on vitamin C. The latter led to a nasty feud, complete with lawsuits.

Robinson started his own organization in 1980, the Oregon Institute for Science and Medicine, which at first mainly conducted research into two things: Robinson's thesis on "molecular clocks", and on civil and radiological defense matters. (Among other things, Robinson co-wrote Fighting Chance with Christian Dominionist writer Gary North - a 1986 paperback calling for the U.S. government to bring back its 1950s Duck and Cover civil defense programs so the U.S. would have a "fighting chance" against the Russians). It is possible the genesis of his global warming "skepticism" denialism was during this period; he became convinced that many of the then-current theories about the effects of nuclear war, most notably the "nuclear winter" theory of Carl Sagan, were hoaxes driven by anti-war activism and not by science. (His feud with Linus Pauling, a peace activist, may have also prejudiced his views here.) In any case he has ever since been skeptical of anything else from Carl Sagan, such as global warming, and has aligned himself with pseudoskeptics of various stripes, including HIV denialists and the anti-vaccination crowd.

Arthur Robinson also appears to be the guiding light behind the group "Doctors for Disaster Preparedness", which should be called Doctors for Disaster Denial since the group expends most of its effort denying, rather than preparing for, potential disasters such as global warming, and at whose July 2008 conference one of the featured speakers was none other than Andrew Schlafly.

See also

External links

Footnotes

  1. Oregon Project homepage
  2. Or perhaps not. Teller died in 2003, after the Oregon Petition had been initiated, and in his later years had become closely associated with Arthur Robinson via their shared interest in pro-nuclear power and Strategic Defense Initiative advocacy. Teller even wrote the introduction to the 1987 Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (Robinson's group) reprint of a U.S. government civil defense manual. He probably did sign.
  3. Seattle Times and Dr. Halliwell
  4. Scientific American - Names Faked
  5. Fox news story quoting said petition.
  6. http://www.petitionproject.org/qualifications_of_signers.php
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