There’s always more – the Schneider/Hertsgaard error

Around halfway down the page at my previous blog post, I briefly noted that the late IPCC scientist Dr Stephen Schneider seemed to make an error about the Global Climate Coalition’s efforts to “reposition the debate onto the issue of uncertainty.” Much like any other examination into facets of the accusation that skeptic climate scientists are paid fossil fuel industry shills, a look into this error only reveals more problems with the basic overall accusation and the people who push the accusation.

Dr Schneider’s error was quite elemental just four paragraphs into the online interview (full text here) he gave to the PBS Frontline people as a supplement for their 2008 “Heat” program.

… the fossil fuel industry organized what was called a Global Climate Coalition. Let me [be] blunt: The Global Climate Coalition was a coalition of liars and spin doctors to reposition the debate onto the issue of uncertainty, way beyond [what] the scientific community agreed with.

He basically paraphrased the infamous phrase “reposition global warming as theory rather than fact” phrase that Al Gore and Ross Gelbspan had made famous, and he incorrectly said it came from the Global Climate Coalition rather than its proven source, leaked memos from a tiny 1991 PR campaign created by the Western Fuels Association. His rephrase and error likely coincides with what was seen not long after in his 2009 “Science As a Contact Sport” book on page 122:

Journalist Ross Gelbspan wrote a book called The Heat is On detailing his investigations on the conspiratorial nature of the GCC strategy. He called them and the scientists and critics they supplied with contrarian arguments as “interchangeable hood ornaments on a high powered engine of disinformation” paid for by industry. Citing leaked internal GCC documents, he reported that their plan was to “reposition” the debate as “theory, not fact,” creating widespread doubt and uncertainty, by pushing the minority views of contrarians like Lindzen, Michaels, Fred Singer, and the like. This was vintage Tobacco Institute strategy, and once again, it worked.

The problem for Dr Schneider is that Gelbspan did not come close to attributing the “reposition global warming” phrase to the GCC in his 1997 book, and never did so elsewhere, either.

Dr Schneider’s error about the GCC did not come out of thin air. It came from basically one of two sources, either all the people and entities who repeated the error, such as Wikipedia, or straight from the source of the error, Mark Hertsgaard’s epic 8800 word+ May 2006 “While Washington SleptVanity Fair article, 52 paragraphs into it:

… most of the public argument was carried by lesser scientists and, above all, by lobbyists and paid spokesmen for the Global Climate Coalition. Created and funded by the energy and auto industries, the Coalition spent millions of dollars spreading the message that global warming was an uncertain threat. Journalist Ross Gelbspan exposed the corporate campaign in his 1997 book, The Heat Is On, which quoted a 1991 strategy memo: the goal was to “reposition global warming as theory rather than fact.”

But, read the last two sentences there carefully, and you see Hertsgaard never actually states outright that the “reposition global warming” phrase originates from the Global Climate Coalition. Nevertheless, Wikipedia linked straight to Hertsgaard’s article from 2006 to 2008, prompting other mistaken repetitions of that association error worldwide. However, Wikipedia later removed it when a critic forcefully pointed out how unsupportable the association was (full text here).

Fascinating how a misreading of just two sentences leads to people ranging from ordinary letter-to-the-editor writers to individuals the caliber of Dr Schneider making utterly unsupportable assertions.

But there’s always more: Mark Hertsgaard is not simply just some person appearing out-of-the-blue, either.

There’s a potentially entertaining ‘full circle’ element to this ‘Schneider makes Hertsgaard-based GCC error’ situation. In my 2011 piece at RedState, I briefly mentioned Hertsgaard’s attempt to ambush Senator James Inhofe (the folly of the attempt being readily seen in Inhofe’s full context video of the event vs. Hertsgaard’s version which was edited down to less than half the length). Then I detailed a short bit about Oriana Zill de Granados, Frontline’s “Hot Politics” Senior producer for the companion web site reports by the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR, a co-producer of the program). Her own CIR web page linked linked not only to Hertsgaard’s epic Vanity Fair article, but also strangely to Gelbspan’s web site reproduction of a New York Times article when it could have linked directly to the article.

Now, there’s a new wrinkle to the situation:  at my Redstate piece, I had a link to Zill de Granados’ Frontline companion “Profiles of the skeptics” web page, noting how she cited Gelbspan twice. Trouble is, when you click on that link right now, no mention of Gelbspan is seen, nearly all of the text has disappeared (screencapture here for posterity). All of the text for her other “Hot Politics” companion reports function normally, but not the page showing her enslavement to the Gelbspan accusation. Not to worry, though, it’s still all seen at the archive version of the page, complete with the rather bad misspelling of Hertsgaard’s last name at the bottom.

So there we have it, yet another situation where the accusation against skeptic climate scientists can’t even separate itself more than two degrees from Gelbspan, and a prime example where it is pushed by both prominent and ordinary people who unquestioningly repeat an inexcusable error tied to it.
[5/30/19 Author’s note: forgot to note it here on July 14, 2015, but wait … there’s still more: The Hertsgaard Error, pt II]