Pursuit of Climate Truth Comes at High Cost

legatesDavid Legates, Ph.D., is a climatologist at the University of Delaware. He served as Delaware State Climatologist from 2005 to 2011. Legates has published more than 125 articles in refereed scientific journals, conference proceedings, and monograph series. Environment & Climate News Managing Editor H. Sterling Burnett interviewed Legates, who was honored at the Tenth International Conference on Climate Change in June 2015.

Burnett: You were the state climatologist for Delaware, but no longer are. What cost you this position? 

Legates: Following the firing of state climatologists in Oregon and Virginia and the associate state climatologist in Washington, the Wilmington (DE) NewsJournal suggested the governor fire me because my views were not in line with hers. As a response, Gov. Ruth Ann Minner (D) wrote a polite letter explaining “recent media coverage of events … has generated some confusion about the role of the State Climatologist” and asserting that “I understand that you have not provided your opinions as [though you’re representing the governor’s office].”

The NewsJournal then ran a story stating the governor had forbidden me from using the title “state climatologist” when discussing climate-related issues. Gov. Minner left office in 2009, and I remained as the state climatologist.

Late in 2009, Greenpeace filed a [Freedom of Information Act] request for my records as the state climatologist. The University of Delaware subsequently expanded that request to include my activities as university faculty while simultaneously rejecting similar [Freedom of Information Act]  requests on others at the university. So I secured the services of a lawyer, which prompted the dean of my college to state that “this college will no longer support anything you do.” Consequently, she asked for my resignation as state climatologist, and I was removed from the position.

As the office has since become a supporter of climate change advocacy in Delaware, my firing appears [to have been] politically motivated. 

Burnett: Please tell us about your recent paper, “Why Models Run Hot: Results from an Irreducibly Simple Climate Model.” What did you and your coauthors discover, and what has been the response? 

Legates: The goal of this paper was to evaluate the climate feedbacks associated with carbon dioxide. If there were no feedbacks, the effect of a doubling of carbon dioxide would result in a warming of about 1° C. Climate models suggest the warming should be between 2.5° and 4.5°, implying a high degree of positive feedback. Using a simple climate model to allow investigation of complex feedbacks, we found complex climate models grossly overstate the effect of feedbacks—the feedbacks may indeed be negative. Moreover, the claim that unrealized warming resides “in the pipeline” is really only a cover to explain why their models overstate observed warming. Our results show there is no warming waiting to occur.

The response has been predictable. [The paper] has been criticized by the usual suspects—some who openly admitted they had not read our paper. The big criticism has been that the model is too simple, but that was precisely the point: Climate models have become so complex that diagnosing errors in them is nearly impossible.

Our research further suggests model prognostications of disastrous climate change are greatly exaggerated. 

Burnett: Degrees of skepticism exist regarding the theory humans are responsible for climate change and its impacts on human health and ecosystems. Some don’t believe humans are playing any role in current climate conditions, others think we have had a modest impact, and still others think humans are affecting climate but it’s not likely to have a dangerous impact (and possibly even a beneficial one). Where do you fall on the spectrum, and why? 

Legates: Unfortunately, the press plays the CNN Crossfire game. There are two views, and they are the polar extremes. First, climate change is real, because climate always has changed. It is not simply “average weather” but is dynamic and variable. Second, humans can and do influence Earth’s climate. We see that with the urban heat island effect, for example. Third, [carbon dioxide] and other trace gases have increased largely from human activity. Fourth, air temperature has risen globally over the past century.

Aside from these facts, the issue has been the sensitivity of climate to changes in these trace gases. My view is the models have overstated their importance, and CO2 is only a minor player in global climate change; the Sun plays a dominant role. Flooding, for example, has increased largely from changes in land cover (e.g., more impervious surfaces) than changes in precipitation. I continue to assert that a well-informed and prudent response is always the only course of action.

Burnett: What have you found to be the most disturbing aspect of the way climate research and climate policy have developed in recent years?

Legates: There are several disturbing aspects. Money has driven the charge to document global warming, and there is far more money and fame to be had by saying the sky is falling. With that have come decidedly nasty attacks by activists and scientists alike whose goal is to destroy reputations and careers by silencing dissent.

Compounding these aspects is that public policy and ideology are driven by this debate; it is not simply an academic disagreement that has no larger implications. Indeed, President Eisenhower was correct when he stated that public policy could “become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.” His fears have become realized.

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. (hsburnett@heartland.org) is a research fellow with The Heartland Institute.


Comments (7)

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    If you can’t lick ’em, fire ’em!

    How much longer before these fascists just start using polonium-210 to silence skeptics?

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    Harry Dale Huffman


    I have been in Dr. Legates’s position–driven out of my job by a corrupt university superior, although in my case it was in atmospheric science, not climate science, and over 20 years ago, and I was but a “lowly” Research Associate, subject to firing without cause at any time, according to the University’s inherently corrupt, self-serving rules–and I have also, as a competent, independent physicist, shown that the climate science consensus is thoroughly incompetent. I also know, as no other scientist on Earth knows, that the scientific incompetence is quite general today, especially throughout the earth and life sciences, and it is that general incompetence that has allowed power-seeking political ideologues on the far, activist Left to take advantage of the weak intellectual atmosphere for its corrupt ends. The truth is that there is no valid climate science whatsoever, and no competent climate scientists, and the Insane Left (which I know is the only proper way to describe them) is pushing an agenda of only blatant, alarmist lies, and that agenda is preventing any correction, much less progress, in climate science. Many, many more than Dr. Legates or myself have been unfairly, and grossly, mistreated; too many have lost jobs and careers, on the altar of false and incompetent science in the hands of power-hungry ideologues. All of our institutions have been suborned, and anyone in any of our institutions that dares to criticize the incompetent consensus or the totally fraudulent current political administration is subject to immediate firing, with no cause given other than “you think differently from your boss, and we will not allow that.” People need to come to an understanding that the whole system, of science and governing alike, is broken due to religiously-held dogmas in both spheres, that are simply destructive of any chance to correct past mistakes and long-nurtured false thinking. The public will lose all of its supposedly inalienable rights, sooner or later, if it does not come to grips with the total corruption that is plain for anyone with eyes to see, and cast it out.

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      I have been asked by family and friends why I did not pursue a climatology or geology career. The reasons I did not had to do with pursuing a woman, and needing more money than those fields offered for a recent college graduate (she had expensive tastes). But I never lost my interest in Earth sciences, and have kept abreast of developments as they came along since my graduation.

      It is actually fortunate that I did not pursue that line of work. I have always been outspoken and an independent thinker, which caused my teachers grief and consternation going all the way back to grade school. I just don’t take what is told to me as fact, I need verification. And often when I would challenge my teachers, they simply could not back up their lesson with facts (and often they were actually wrong). I needed to know more than the opinion of an authority, I needed to know how they came to their conclusions. So I was placed in advanced studies because I was too much to handle for the regular staff, and was bored by their slow rote progression.

      I would have been a pariah in the world of Earth sciences, and would have ended up like many other skeptics with ruined careers. I owe a great debt of gratitude to those who [i]have[/i] put their careers on the line in the defense of science, and I admire them greatly.

      Thankyou Harry and Dr Legates, the world needs more rebels in science.

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    Absolutely outrageous.

    [i][b]SILENCE THE SKEPTICS![/b][/i]

    Since when did skepticism and science collide? I thought debate, review, and skepticism were time-honored scientific practice principles.

    Have we really entered an era where fascists control science?

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      Where have you been? Theories are considered fact if they fit the leftist world view, and have been for decades.

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      Charles Higley


      “Since when did skepticism and science collide?”

      No. You should ask, “Since when did skepticism and JUNK science collide?”

      Skepticism is how science is done and validated.

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    Back in the USSR, the Politburo used to “purge” people from the ranks of the believers in Mother Russia…

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