On Twisting Words and Dodging Responsibility

Two items have come up in the DeSmogBlog recently that deserve further analysis. The first is the conversion of Republican pollster and strategist Frank Luntz who, until very recently, has been directing governments in the U.S. and Canada on how to communicate about climate change. For example, in a 2002 strategy memo to the Republican Party, Luntz wrote:

The Scientific Debate Remains Open. Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate, and defer to scientists and other experts in the field.

To give Luntz the benefit of the doubt, maybe he really believed in 2002 that the debate over climate change science was legitimate and not the result of a concerted energy-industry campaign to confuse the public. He says now that he believes the advice was fair when he gave it and we would like to take him at his word.

That being the case, however, you would have expected that his recent conversion from “climate change skepticism” would have come with an apology, or perhaps a messaging update. Instead, when asked about the continuing Republican denial of the science, Luntz said:

That's up to the [them]. I'm not the administration. What they want to do is their business. And it's nothing to do with what I write. And it's nothing to do with what I believe.

The language is a powerful tool and Frank Luntz has a real gift in wielding that tool. With such a gift should come some sense of responsibility. Instead, Luntz offers a total abdication: “What they want to do is their business.”

Given the degree to which Luntz's advice has defined the Bush administration's position on climate change science, that response is analagous to saying, 'I just sold them the guns, officer. I had no idea what they planned to do with them.' Not good enough.

The second item of note arose last weekend with the excellent Globe and Mail feature by Charles Montgomery on the so-called Friends of Science. In a careful - and carefully balanced - article, Montgomery looked at the scientific position of the “Friends” chief spokesperson, Dr. Tim Ball, and judged that position to be sincere (even if it is ill informed). Again, it's nice to be able to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Then Montgomery asked who was paying for Tim Ball's aggressive media and speaking campaign - who was covering Dr. Ball's expenses as he travelled the country, speaking to 100 different groups and chatting up politicians and journalists at every turn? Montgomery found a direct link to the fossil fuel industry, a link that Dr. Ball has been denying at every turn. Worse, MOntgomery implicated the University of Calgary and Professor Barry Cooper in a clumsy effort to conceal that link.

How is it that a freelance journalist can walk through the front door of an organization like Friends of Science (FOS), ask a direct question about the origin of that organization's funding and elicit this compromising answer, and yet the self-styled scientific expert, Dr. Tim Ball, can have taken FOS money for the better part of a year without ever wondering who was paying his bills, and why?

This studied ignorance, on the part of Frank Luntz and on the part of Dr. Tim Ball, is part of the problem in the denial of climate change science. When there is bad news about, some people just don't want to know. And when there is a lot of money about, some people will work extra hard not to tell them.

PDF icon Luntz Memo.pdf1.46 MB


The article and coverpage photo of Tim Ball has since been added to the G&M online - and can be found here:


Perhaps you can update other blog entries as well 

yes, well, might have overlooked this one… bah. My work is never done!

All links updated to that oh so well written piece by Charles Montgomery, DeSmogBlog super hero.

The whole article is at Montgomery’s blog:


 Jim and Kevin, keep up the good work!

Here is what was in the Calgary Herald recently (two Sundays backl):

“Clarification. On Sunday, April 23, 2006, The Herald published a letter from Dan Johnson, a professor in environmental science at the University of Lethbridge. Johnson was responding to an article of April 19, 2006, written by Dr. Timothy Ball. In his letter, Johnson criticized Ball’s lack of research regarding climate and said he rarely published while teaching at the University of Winnipeg. According to Ball’s curriculum vitae, he has conducted research on climate and has published 51 papers – 32 directly related to climate and atmosphere. The Herald wishes to clarify that information.”            

Ball’s lawyer sent me his CV and list of pubs.   To his credit, there are actually several science journal articles in the 80’s and 90’s  (mainly Hudson’s Bay historical temperatures, his doctoral thesis, and one on geese migration). Clearly, these few were based on his own research, and passed science review.  But, one would not call this extensive, or recent. 

The Calgary Herald ignored my advice on the phone regarding what science  research and publishing mean, and apparently just added up his reports and talks to various groups, historical societies, newspapers, website opinions, abstracts,  etc., counting them as science publications and evidence of research(!?!).  I suggested that they simply pick up the phone and call anyone in science at the U of Calgary and ask them if Ball’s articles are evidence of science research and publishing. 

My initial letter to them was concerning one of his attacks that was published in the C.H.:


My original letter, which they published in April, was not a personal attack.  It was a call for fairness and accuracy in describing authors’ credentials, especially when they are making attacks regarding major science issues.

To the Calgary Herald

Whatever one may feel about Tim Ball’s denial of climate change  science, newspapers ought to report factual summaries of authors’  credentials. Your article by Tim Ball (April 19) notes, apparently as  evidence in support of his position, that he “was the first  Climatology PhD in Canada and worked as a Professor of Climatology at  the University of Winnipeg for 28 years”. Incorrect, on both counts.  Dr. Ball received a PhD in Geography in the UK in 1982, on a topic in  historical climatology. Canada already had PhD’s in climatology, and  it is important to recognize them and their research. Examples include  Kenneth Hare, a well-respected Professor at McGill, who received his  PhD in 1950, also in the UK. Climatologist Andre Robert (PhD from  McGill, 1965) conducted research that laid the groundwork in  atmospheric models and climate. Timothy Oke, a leader in the study of  urban climate, received his PhD from McMaster in 1967. You can find  others listed on the website of the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, or through Canadian Universities. Next, did Dr.  Ball work as a Professor of Climatology at the University of Winnipeg  for 28 years? No, according to his own website (which you can find  with Google). And how could he have? He did not even have an  entry-level PhD until 1983, that would allow even Assistant Professor  status. During much of the 28 years cited, he was a junior Lecturer or  Instructor who rarely published, and then spent 8 years as Professor  (of Geography, not of Climatology). Ignoring the adjustments to his CV  for the moment, does his work show any evidence of research regarding  climate and atmosphere? No, and the few papers he has published  concern other matters. There are great gains to be made in science  from conjectures and refutations, but sometimes denial is nothing more  than denial. 

Dan Johnson, PhD
 Professor of Environmental Science
 Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Grassland Ecosystems
 Department of Geography
 University of Lethbridge
 4401 University Drive West
 Lethbridge, AB, T1K 3M4

[email protected]

 (403) 329-2040 office
 (403) 327-1209 home
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