Counterpoint: Doubting Climate Scientists Should be Treated with Respect


I disagree with my Post Alley colleague Joel Connelly, who dismisses the concern that scientists skeptical of the party line on global warming are being silenced. His argument, titled, “Skeptical of Climate Change Skeptics,” was posted here September 19. In it, he cites what the skeptics about climate-change science say, goes harumph, and chucks it into the trash.

 Connelly wrote the article in response to an article on the RealClearPolitics website. The article raised an alarm over the cancellation of a speech by John Clauser, a theoretical physicist who shared the 2022 Nobel Prize in physics for his work in quantum technology. Clauser was set to address the International Monetary Fund, but the speech was canceled, presumably because the IMF (which is not a scientific body) didn’t like what Clauser was going to say. Judging from what he has said before, Clauser was going to say that the rise in average global temperature was “no cause for panic and alarm,” and to proclaim otherwise was to follow “misguided science.”

Let’s be clear. I don’t know whether Clauser is right. I’m a retired newspaperman, as is  Connelly. We worked for the same paper, The Seattle P-I, for about 15 years. In his career, he mostly wrote stories about the environment and politics, and I mostly wrote stories about business and politics. We have different political opinions, and that’s all right, but neither of us is a scientist. Our professional expertise is in making arguments.

Connelly’s September 19 article is not harsh in tone. It doesn’t traffic in obvious lies. It has a down-to-earth, let’s-get-real sensibility. It condemns with softness. But consider the kinds of arguments he makes. In an appearance of fairness, Connelly quotes Clauser and lists Clauser’s Nobel Prize credentials. He quotes Cliff Mass, Seattle’s most prominent expert on the weather. And the next thing he writes is a big leap: “Skeptics have found a political home in the MAGA wing of the Republican Party. Ex-President Trump has called global warming ‘a hoax.’”

That is a rhetorical trick: Lump your opponents with Donald Trump. Put a MAGA hat on a Nobel prizewinner.

Another rhetorical move is to question your opponent’s motives. Connelly does this by raising concern about “Big Oil,” which “will profit and prosper if demand [for oil] stays higher…” Why is this part of the discussion of a Nobel Prize winner? Is Clauser in the pay of Big Oil? Is Cliff Mass? Am I? Connelly is careful not to specifically suggest such a thing — but he brought it up. Think about why he brought it up.

A further rhetorical move is to shift the argument from the science, which is complicated, and make it about something simple: The glaciers are melting! Beetles are eating the forests! Fire burned a town on Maui! And finally, having dismissed the scientists rather than meet them on their turf, he nails down his argument by appealing to the authority of Pope Francis, Martin Luther King, and a kayaker named Keenan.

I’m getting real tired of Seattle progressives who assert that anyone who disagrees with them on this topic is a “denier.” Let’s unpack this. Consider the following propositions:

  1. The Earth is warming and the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased.
  2. The Earth is warming because of the increase in carbon dioxide, which was caused by people burning petroleum and coal.
  3. Global warming is a problem that needs to be addressed, along with other problems facing humanity.
  4. Global warming is more important than all other problems. It is an existential crisis that threatens all human life. The debate is over. We need to act NOW.
  5. Specifically, we need to stop drilling for oil and gas now, invest now massively in solar and wind (but not nuclear!), and replace our petroleum-driven cars with plug-in electrics within the next 10 years — or we risk an irreversible spiral of doom. Probably we should stop flying in airplanes, eating meat, using leaf blowers, and a lot of other things.

I will not dispute No. 1. The globe has warmed a few degrees and glaciers are melting. CO2 has gone up in the past 150 years. Those are facts. I have heard arguments against No. 2, but let’s assume that’s true also, along with No. 3. That doesn’t get us to affirm Nos. 4 and 5. It’s wrong to imply that people who don’t buy 4 and 5 as “deniers” of 1, 2 and 3, and especially as deniers of No. 1. The people who do this are not just being sloppy. They’re being sly and nasty. They’ve got to stop it.

It is also wrong to overstate what your opponents believe. I’m not saying that Nos. 4 and 5 are exactly what Connelly believes, but I think they do describe what a lot of people in this town believe.

My answer to them is: You’ve got a mountain to climb before you can establish Nos. 4 and 5, and you can’t avoid the effort by waving your arms and yelling. You may have a sign on your lawn that says, “Science Is Real.,” The sign may make you feel good, but it doesn’t mean that you’re right. And it doesn’t give you the standing to shut other people up.

Connelly may be right about warming, and John Clauser and Cliff Mass may be wrong — I don’t know. But I don’t like it when a group of scientists complain that they are being intimidated, canceled, edited out — and people who don’t agree shrug and call them thin-skinned. Science requires the right to challenge other people’s opinions. So does political life. Let’s defend the people who exercise that right, even if we’re not ready to defend everything they say.


Bruce Ramsey
Bruce Ramsey
Bruce Ramsey was a business reporter and columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in the 1980s and 1990s and from 2000 to his retirement in 2013 was an editorial writer and columnist for the Seattle Times. He is the author of The Panic of 1893: The Untold Story of Washington State’s first Depression, and is at work on a history of Seattle in the 1930s. He lives in Seattle with his wife, Anne.


  1. Thanks for your thoughts, Bruce. Disagreeing with someone or doubting their view while being respectful is a skill that has fallen into disrepair in America, particularly on the far left and far right. It also happens to be a skill democracy depends on. Expressing and tolerating a range of views is vital to democracy. David Brooks makes much of this in his excellent recent article in Atlantic magazine, “Why Americans Are So Awful to One Another.” Brooks zeroes in on a lack of moral education in our schools. In a culture devoid of moral education, generations are growing up in a morally inarticulate, self-referential, intolerant world.

  2. Kudos to Bruce Ramsey for taking issue with my Post Alley column on climate skeptics and deniers. We need more debate in Seattle. He only slightly exaggerated my arguments. Civil disagreement is, nowadays, more difficult in a media world of Jason Rantz and The Stranger.

    What Rambo implies, and where I take issue, is that I’m warning of Armageddon and advocating a transformation in energy use that is abrupt, massive, and dictatorial. The Sierra Club Seattle group, I am not.. I see the wisdom in a famous blooper by Sen. Warren Magnuson: “We can’t all go live at Walden Pond. Even Walden only lived there two years.”

    What I do argue is that we should heed ominous signs, and act while a gentle landing is possible. We should not allow a transition in energy sources to be blocked or delayed, either by skeptical scientists or oil companies wanting to stretch out the carbon economy. I’m not a scientist, but they aren’t always the final authority. I recall an era when some scientists offering “proof” that the white race was superior.

    Outward signs of a budding climate crisis are for scientific researcher and layperson to see. I cited the drastic retreat and disappearance of glaciers in my lifetime. The extended fire season is a product of smaller snowpacks and a warming climate. Vast dead forests, viewed on a flight from Vancouver to Terrace, are the consequence when climate can no longer control a dangerous pest. The “drunken forests” of Alaska’s Toklat River, where permafrost is melting beneath trees, show how the Arctic is more rapidly warming.

    No apologies on non-scientific sources. Pope Francis is witness to a crisis of drought and desertification that is driving thousands of refugees across the Mediterranean. His church must tend to the living while he blesses the dead. The “kayaker named Keenan” is a software engineer, but also a two-time medalist at the Pan American Games. He’s young but knows rivers and, in Revelstoke, is in a vantage point to study them.

    Icefields and glaciers in the Canadian Rockies, Selkirks and Purcell Mountains feed the Columbia River. They keep its flow going in summer, assuring survival of the great fall chinook salmon run in Hanford Reach. Late fall and winter snowpacks power the giant third powerhouse at Grand Coulee Dam, which keeps the region’s lights on during cold, dark early winter days when our use of electricity nearly doubles.

    We should take notice, in time for enlightened adjustment and a reasonable transformation. We need to “act NOW,” in Bruce’s words, to deal with multiple changes in climate that are changing our lives.

    A final point: I would silence nobody. My hiking/climbing buddies have entrusted Cliff Mass on when weather will drive us off mountains. Good to know. On climate, however, he is invested in denying that the latest (name of extreme climate event) is part of climate change.

    After sounding off on an education issue, Cliff was booted off his Friday a.m. weather stint at KUOW-FM some years back. As a pundit, I joined protests against the station’s knuckle headed action. Thousands signed petitions. He was not reinstated.

    But someone was censored, in a fashion. Until the Cliff controversy, I was a semi-regular talking head on KUOW’s 10 a.m. Friday talk fest. In more than a decade since, I’ve been invited back twice, once won a morning with four inches of wet snow on the ground.

    It has, however, freed up Friday mornings, where I’ve had contact with folks with a lot more diverse opinions and backgrounds than those with whom I shared the studio. I look forward to more exchanges with Rambo.

  3. Why are Americans so mean? I’ll have to think about that, but I don’t have to think very hard about what’s going on here. Connelly may be if anything a little too nice about it.

    Science isn’t a perfect monolith. There’s legitimate disagreement, and more. I think the cottage industry of denial science may have been given its start in the ’50s by the tobacco industry. It flourished for a brief moment during the pandemic, but in recent years denial has come to settle on climate. Never mind that we’ve known for generations what CO2 and other greenhouse gases would do, and that we can see it being done, there’s an audience desperate to hear whatever denial can be found.

    Are they sincere and well meaning, you might ask? Who cares.

    Scientists should listen to each other, but we aren’t scientists. What Dr. Mysterio has to say about climate change, hydroxychloroquine or whatever, is for other scientists to hear. When the “do your own research” crowd picks up on this stuff, they’re being scammed – at least they’re scamming themselves, and likely it’s set up by whoever stands to benefit from their confusion. It’s for hucksters.

    When you want to know where science stands on something – tobacco, vaccination, climate, whatever – you want to know what is the current scientific consensus. You don’t have to decide whether Dr. Mysterio is being paid by the oil industry. If you aren’t a climate scientist, any serious consideration of that stuff is utterly irresponsible. That stuff may not be what’s making Americans mean, but it’s reaching a somewhat desperate point.

  4. I agree that we need to treat each other with respect and dignity. Perhaps more so when we disagree on things that threaten our health, environment and planet. I had a first hand seat at the table of how scientists and policy leaders at our state Department of Ecology were treated during numerous hearings and debates related to climate change. Disrespected, threatened at our homes, and made fun of in the media. Please reveal the editorials and newspapers that defended the dignity of these professional who spoke up about the science and policy of climate change. Not much that’s for sure.
    The climate science contrarians, Clauser and Mass have a right to expressing their opinions. Let’s be careful in listening to them so we don’t confuse their opinion with scientifically supported understanding about climate change. They don’t offer evidence based information to support their opinion. Clauser and Mass are using their reputation and standing in one technical area to get credibility for their opinion In another. If they want to engage in the details of climate science they know how to do it…peer review. As of now they sound more like the unfortunate case of the chair of the Scientific Advisory Board to the Tobacco Industry Research Committee.

  5. For those who would like to understand how to get from Proposition 1. “Global warming is just another problem” to Propositions 4. “It’s an existential crisis, and we need to act NOW,” may I suggest—in the spirit of Socratic dialogue–a Youtube video presentation by Dr. Gail Bradbrook, Ph.D. in molecular biophysics, “Heading for Extinction and What to do About it.” If Extinction Rebellion is too strong for your tastes, try Elizabeth Kolbert’s “The Sixth Extinction” as a more palatable introduction to the new and scientifically verifiable reality.

  6. It’s not that ‘climate change’ is real – or not; it is the ‘my way or the highway’ world we live in. There is no space where we can come together, no space to acknowledge other viewpoints.

    Today’s media has not helped either. Every storm outside what might be considered ‘the norm’ is catastrophic.

    A word about Cliff Mass. I agree that he overstepped the bounds of his remit at KUOW, but I also see that he was truly concerned about the deficiences or the proposed math books for SPS – that got him fired.

    As a once long-time listener and contributor to KNKX, I was appalled at his abrupt firing at the behest of climate change activists and severed my financial support because of it.

  7. It is with regret that I would caution my friend Mr. Connelly to steer his followers with excessive caution as he has considerable influence.

    Exctly how is it we “follow the science”?

    An instructive story about the COVID stab.

    “… The vaccines have been administered more than 13 billion times, saved millions of lives and prevented severe illness in millions of people. …

    … Karikó recalled the scepticism surrounding her work in the 1990s that led to numerous grant-proposal and paper rejections (including the 2005 paper for which she is now being recognized), and forced her to take a demotion and a pay cut. …”

    The only reason we had and have the life-saving stab was because “… [we] faced frustration and dealt with it, understood it, and used it to their advantage,” Weissman said. “We repeatedly fell, were knocked down, ignored. And we kept getting up, and we didn’t give up.” ”

    The above are excerpts from Nature

    The scientists that provided me and my friend Connelly with his immunity from death (if he took the satb) were previously ridiculed, ignored, and had their pay cut. And so it is with many scientists who open the door to alternative climate discussions; they are ridiculed and silenced and face pay cuts today.

    We fail to recall that within recorded time, Hannibal took elephants over the Alps as there were no glaciers obstructing him. You cannot make that trip today as the glaciers have not yet receded to the same extent they disappeared in the time of Hannibal. Have we been here before without the extinction of all life? Probbaly.

    My friend Connelly may have been a child durring the original “free speech” movement, posbaly he has forgotten what it was we all fought the “system” to get.

    The enemy of knowledge is elitism.

  8. The scientists who made that happen, didn’t depend on the support of people sitting at home “doing their own research.” They eventually got somewhere in the scientific discipline they work in, and eventually we had a vaccine that was recommended by the CDC et al.

    Could the science community be better in these matters? Of course, but that isn’t in any way what we’re talking about. Connelly and Karikó aren’t duking it out in the arena of free speech, they have nothing to do with each other.

    When the science is there, we get it from the CDC. Scientists who get into problems with “free speech” are hucksters, peddling a serious misconception about science. The word means two different things: 1) the results of hundreds of years of work within the scientific process, and 2) the process itself. When you pull a research journal article from the library, you’re getting the process, not the result, and confusing the two is fraudulent.


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