Congressional “Study” Attacking Climate Change Found to be Plagiarized, Error-Ridden

A USA Today investigation of a 2006 congressional “study” attacking climate change reveals that 35 of the 91 pages are plagiarized from a textbook by Raymond Bradley; but the authors didn’t content themselves with stealing another’s prose– they systematically introduced errors into it! The study was requested by Rep. Joe “I Apologize to BP” Barton (R-Texas). USA Today writes:

‘ Bradley says he learned of the copying from a year-long analysis of the Wegman report made by retired computer scientist John Mashey of Portola Valley, Calif. Mashey’s analysis concludes that 35 of the report’s 91 pages “are mostly plagiarized text, but often injected with errors, bias and changes of meaning.” Copying others’ text or ideas without crediting them violates universities’ standards, according to Liz Wager of the London-based Committee on Publication Ethics. ‘

Congress’s production of junk science parallels the Washington, D.C. “think tanks” such as the American Enterprise Institute, set up by New York billionaires with way too much money, to produce junk policy like the Iraq War (and some junk science, too).

The Lalaland inhabited by the American Right, producing bizarre beliefs about things like climate change bewilders other countries, who don’t let rich people dictate to them what they should think. What they have to understand is that the United States is one big Company Town, where workers get shot down if they step away from the company line.

What is truly bewildering is why the super-rich in the United States would want to deny reality. Climate change is real, and it has implications for lots of stocks, and if you are picking stocks without taking it into account, you are going to take a bath over the medium term. Likewise, someone is going to make a lot of money from investments in alternative energy and methods of carbon sequestration, which the blindered will miss out on.

My guess is that climate change denial is a mere strategum deriving from the problem of the commons. The atmosphere is not owned by anyone. It is therefore in the short-term, selfish interests of individual entrepreneurs to avoid the costs that would be incurred in lowering their carbon footprint, and offload those costs onto other entrepreneurs and onto society instead. Since the consequences won’t be felt in a big way for a while, this selfish behavior makes the next generation pay the cost of increased carbon. Since the Republican Party is all about looking out for the interests of selfish entrepreneurs seeking a quick buck at others’ expense, it is running interference for the polluters by trying to muddy the water on climate change. No more self-destructive policy could have been devised, but what the 2008 Wall Street meltdown should have taught us is that these people have all the wisdom and foresight of a pack of lemmings.

The news of the forgery comes the same day it was announced that carbon emissions are again roaring ahead, after a much smaller than expected “decrease in the rate of increase” in 2009 because of the bad economy. People are always saying that conservation has to be part of the solution here, but if a world economic crisis could not make a significant or lasting dent in carbon emissions, what hope is there for large-scale voluntary cut-backs?

There is a clear scientific consensus on the rapid increase in carbon parts per million in the atmosphere since the 18th century (starting at 280 ppm and now reaching about 389 ppm). (There is a difference between a scholarly consensus and unanimity; you can never get everyone to agree on anything. But if 99% of scientists are convinced by the evidence of something, that’s a powerful consensus.)

There is not any doubt that human activity is pumping that carbon into the atmosphere. And there is not any doubt that the average surface temperature of the earth is systematically increasing over time, which is exactly what you would expect with the increased green house gases in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has the effect of letting the heat of the sun in, but keeping it from radiating back out into space. Contrarians should try carrying out at home the simple high school science project demonstrating this principle.

atmospheric co2 parts per million sinc 1960

Mauna Loy Observatory data on parts per million carbon in the atmosphere, 1960-2010

8 Responses

  1. “What is truly bewildering is why the super-rich in the United States would want to deny reality.”

    To be honest, some super-rich are perfectly happy to fight for science.

    Why do people fight for something? Two reasons, and two reasons only: faith or money. Some people believe that the science is wrong because they already distrust science, because they don’t understand it, or because it conflicts with other things they believe (humans are too insignificant to make changes to the world as a whole, humanity can’t go extinct since we’re god’s chosen, …). But most of them make money from the status quo. That’s obvious: they are super-rich, after all. So fighting anything that could upend the ant hill is a natural reflect.

    But assuming they are willing to entertain the possibility of climate change, wouldn’t they still try to stop it, just in case? Well, no, of course not: they are not in danger. Even if the worst comes to pass, they will be fine. Yes, their private island may disappear, the whole economy might go to hell in a handbasket and most of New York may slide in the sea. But they already have enough money to guarantee that their great-great-grandchildren will never have to do anything productive. They’ll buy new estates inland, probably turning a good profit on the development of them while they’re at it. They’ll go fashion-shopping in Paris if New York becomes uninhabitable. Why the heck would they care?

  2. America has always been a business. Even the dreams are sold. Making a quick buck is all that has ever mattered.

    this short term outlook, next quarter profits, this immediate focus is the “American Way.”

  3. Capitalism has unfortunately gotten to the point that CEOs can make fortunes with short-term thinking, ie., getting the stock price up so they can cash in on their options and stock. And the oil, coal and automobile boys have discovered that hiring PR firms and Lobbyists will keep the good times rolling and their stocks booming no matter what the facts are.

  4. Shhhhh Professor Cole. We want all the stupid people who think that
    global climate change will freeze the northern hemisphere (a la The
    Day After Tomorrow) to move to the Southwest while we smart people
    quietly buy up farmland in Michigan and learn to plow with oxen.

  5. “What is truly bewildering is why the super-rich in the United States would want to deny reality.”

    I think Naomi Klein had a good explanation for this. In here Shock Doctrine she talks about ecological disaster (e.g. Hurricane Katrina) as the kind of shock that the right wing is looking for to promote its agenda. American Enterprise Institute and the read of [Septic]”Think tanks” work hard to prepare the next set of policies to push after the next disaster. For instance after Katrina you see them starting the voucher private school system to undermine the public schools.

  6. Don’t assume that just because someone has a lot of money that they are smart! Lots of the super-rich inherit their money. Even the ones who don’t, may be good at selling something, but given to wishful thinking about other issues. Most of the Deniers I’ve met have been a lot like the Creationists I’ve known, the Anti-Semites I’ve argued with, a lot like 9-11 Truthers or believers in Von Daeniken or Velikovsky. They want XYZ to be true because it would be so nice if it were true. They want ABC to be false because it would be too icky if it were true. Most of us Americans grow up singing “when you wish upon a star, you’re dreams come true,” and more than a few never stop thinking that way.

    Critical thinking is rare anywhere, and the USA is no exception.

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