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Journal article

Advocacy mailing draws fire

Malakoff D ...see all

Science, vol. 280 (1998) p. 195

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Abstract

full text:
In early March, tens of thousands of U.S. scientists received a bulk-mailed letter from Frederick Seitz, a former president of the National Academy
of Sciences (NAS) and of Rockefeller University in New York City. It invited them to sign an enclosed petition urging lawmakers to reject the 1997
Kyoto climate treaty (Science, 19 December 1997, p. 2048), which awaits approval by the U.S. Senate.

The substance of the mailing might have attracted little notice in the flurry of position papers that the treaty has spawned. But some scientists and
environmentalists are crying foul because its centerpiece is an article that looks like--but is not--a reprint from the Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences. "The mailing is clearly designed to be deceptive by giving people the impression that the article, which is full of half-truths, is a reprint and has passed peer
review," says Raymond Pierrehumbert, an atmospheric chemist at the University of Chicago.

The eight-page review article concludes that predictions of global warming "are in error" and that rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are "a wonderful and unexpected gift
from the Industrial Revolution," because they have produced "an increasingly lush environment of plants and animals." Its co-authors are chemist Arthur Robinson of the Oregon
Institute of Science and Medicine in Cave Junction; Robinson's 22-year-old son, Zachary; and astrophysicists Sallie Baliunas and Willie Soon of the George C. Marshall Institute, a
Washington, D.C., think tank and vocal critic of any government efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Pierrehumbert says he became concerned when a colleague, confused by Seitz's affiliations, called to ask whether the academy had indeed taken a stand against the Kyoto treaty. The
call moved Pierrehumbert to post an e-mail harshly criticizing the mailing to several scientific mailing lists. He was not the only scientist angered by the faux reprint. "We've gotten
several hundred calls from scientists asking what we are going to do about this," reports Darren Goetze of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) in Boston, an advocacy group that
last year signed up 1558 scientists in urging the federal government to take action on global warming. Officials at the Sierra Club and the NAS say they, too, have gotten a flurry of
complaints. Researchers "are wondering if someone is trying to hoodwink them," says atmospheric chemist F. Sherwood Rowland, NAS foreign secretary.

Robinson admits it is no coincidence that the article, which he designed on his computer, looks like one published by the academy. "I used the Proceedings as a model," he says, "but
only to put the information in a format that scientists like to read, not to fool people into thinking it is from a journal." He says he plans to submit a version shortly to a peer-reviewed
journal.

Robinson says he didn't want to wait for formal publication of his article, for fear that the Senate might vote on the Kyoto treaty before he could distribute his petition. The goal, he
says, is to counter the perception created by the UCS petition and other statements that there is a scientific consensus in favor of the Kyoto treaty. "Scientists who have spoken out
[against the treaty] keep getting marginalized as nuts. I want to demonstrate that there is no consensus," he says. Critics are attacking his mailing's style, he believes, to sidestep a
debate on its scientific substance.

Robinson says his petition has gathered 15,000 signatures. But Pierrehumbert and others say that Robinson's views on climate change are suspect, because he has never published
research in the field.

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Authors

  • David Malakoff

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