Saturday, March 10, 2007

Global warming talk

This morning, I was the last of four speakers, each giving an hour-long talk, at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Collectively, we were the program for the conference "Do You CO2?," about global warming and climate change, sponsored by the McMaster Science for Peace / Pugwash Society.

The other speakers were a McMaster grad student, giving a supposedly "neutral" account on climate change, a fellow from Greenpeace, and a fellow from "Friends of Science," a group about which has this to say.

I only got this speaking assignment late Thursday afternoon; I was replacing Severn Cullis-Suzuki (David Suzuki's daughter), who works with the same speakers' bureau I do; she had to bow out because of a family emergency. So, I didn't have a lot of time to prepare -- but my talk was very well received. I recorded it, and hope to make a podcast out of it, in my copious spare time. :)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


At March 11, 2007 8:58 AM , Blogger Lou_Sytsma said...

Excellent, look forward to hearing it!

At March 12, 2007 12:24 PM , Blogger Fred Kiesche said...

So where does Greenpeace get their funding from (in the interests of being fair, of course)?

At March 12, 2007 3:24 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

Sourcewatch on Greenpeace, Fred: Sourcewatch on Greepeace.

It's mostly individuals: "Though there does not seem to be any information about the foundations that give them money on their website, the financial breakdown from 2001 for Greenpeace international alone indicates that 118m of 143m came from individuals with 3.9m from foundations, 4.2m from major donors and 4.4m other income. 12.5m was left in legacies and bequests, so foundations constitute a relatively small proportion of income, assuming that the same is roughly true of the subsidiaries."

At March 12, 2007 5:06 PM , Anonymous Angela said...

You can find similar information about where the "Friends of Science" get their funding from at
It is interesting to contrast the two organizations in that regard. I am curious, too about your apparent suspicion about the student-speaker's neutrality - background and funding obviously have a role to play in what speakers say and how we interpret their speech delivery.

At March 12, 2007 5:21 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

Ooops, Angela! It looks like the link you were trying to post got truncated. Here's a version that works (Tiny URL'd to:

At March 12, 2007 6:05 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

Hi, Angela.

I don't think the grad student was being sneaky, and he did a pretty good job. But the notion that saying "I'm not going to tell you where I stand" (as he did over and over again) is the same as being "neutral" is ridiculous.

What he chose to include and exclude from his talk was filtered through his biases, whatever they might be (and we all have biases), and given that his brief was to provide an overview, he had an obligation to put those biases out on the table so that people could decide for themselves what effect they'd had on his choices.

He did at one point say that Al Gore had shown a graph (the hockey-stick graph) without the scales labelled, and decried that as bad scientific practice -- and then, moments later, he put up a slide of his own about the changing eccentricity of Earth's orbit around the sun that exaggerated the effect by several orders of magnitude (Earth's orbit is nearly circular) without once mentioning the distortion.

I called him on that in my talk as a perfect example of there being no such thing as neutrality: Gore, he says, is wrong for showing an undistorted (and linear, not logarithmic) graph that didn't have the scales labeled, but the grad student was claiming to be doing good science by exaggerating effects by orders of magnitude in his graphic. Bah.

(The grad student also blithely juxtaposed a graph that had a time scale of a billion years with one measured in centuries -- a switch of seven orders of magnitude in time scale to get his data points to fit what he wanted to say -- without ever once pointing out the shift.)

At March 12, 2007 10:49 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

Oh, and the Globe and Mail article discussing the sources of Friends of Science's funding is here.


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