A Credible Denier? Incredible!

What's the DeSmogBlog to do with a climate change denier like Dr. Paul Reiter?

Dr. Reiter is director of the Institut Pasteur School of Infectiology in Paris. A search of the scientific literature shows that he has published 30 peer-reviewed journal articles, mostly on mosquitoes and infectious disease - which sets him out as a legitimate scientist even if it doesn't mark him as a Nobel Prize threat. (By comparison, the less-than-illustrious Dr. Tim Ball wrote four peer-reviewed articles during his whole career, three of them mined from the same material; whereas someone like the University of Victoria's Andrew Weaver is closing in on 200 articles and he's barely mid-career.)

Dr. Reiter is a trenchant critic of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and a frequent participant in efforts to cast doubt on climate science. He was featured, for example, in the recent (and risible) Great Global Warming Swindle and he was a signatory to the Canadian letter of 60, joining ranks with a highly suspicious lot to question current climate theory.

Faced with such a character - someone willing to stand up against the global scientific consensus - we at the DeSmogBlog generally go looking for motive, and we usually find big energy industry funding. There is no such smoking gun with Reiter (at least not that we have found). He has associated himself with some pretty questionable organizations, industry and political front groups like the Annapolis Centre for Science-Based Public Policy and Tech Central Station, but there's a Catch 22 in making that connection. Those organizations, agenda driven and/or oil soaked, are forever on the lookout for scientists who would back up their preferred world view. They would hurry to associate themselves with someone - especially someone credible - who was willing to agree with their position. What a bonus it would be if said credible scientist actually - sincerely and in good faith - held their contrarian view.

What can we really say? Well, here's one option: the National Post, as part of its 16-part series to promote the denier viewpoint, ignores the possibility that Dr. Reiter's nose is out of joint because he failed to make the cut as an IPCC expert. Instead, writer Larry Solomon hails Reiter as a model scientist and dismisses the biggest scientific collaboration in history as a politicized process with a predetermined result.

Well, as Kevin Grandia reported here earlier, there's no question the IPCC process is politicized, but the Post seems to have it exactly wrong. Thousands of scientists with unimpeachable credentials worked on the most recent report. And when they were done watering down its conclusions, even China and Saudi Arabia signed it, agreeing that this is the best and most reliable presentation of the science yet.

Against that remarkable consensus, it's easy enough to conclude that even if Dr. Reiter is not accepting oil money - even if he just chooses his friends badly - he's still wrong. He may or may not be making an honest mistake - but he's still making a mistake. Concluding otherwise (as the National Post does) may be an act of faith or an act of passion, but it defies belief to think it is an act of reason.


So, if I don’t believe in a relationship between supply and demand, does that mean that my opinion is credible, just because I am highly qualified in something other than economics? I could even say “supply ad demand” is a model, and models are always wrong, therefore I loudly reject it.

Disbelieving anything at all is certainly allowed. A surgeon doesn’t believe in evolution. So what? An engineer doubts criminology, ecology or climatology. So what? But there is a word for those who use qualifications in one field to gravely offer expert opinion in another, and even pretend to be a counter-weight to those who have actually worked at finding the answers.

The motive for speaking out as the great doubter, without evidence to show, against the mass of actual experts lies in the feeling of importance, not in monetary rewards.

… So that explains demagogues like Al Gore and David Suzuki.

Thanks for clearing that up.