Two Open Letters To Congress On Climate Change, And A New Third

There are two open letters shot off to Congress these last days, one from “alarmist” scientists and the other from “denialist” scientists1. Those pejoratives were not picked by me, but by each rival camp, each seeking to find the best stinger to dismiss the other with a word.

The 28 January letter was signed by, inter alia, Ben Santer, Kevin Trenberth, and Michael Mann. The 8 February letter was avowed by Richard Lindzen, Craig Idso, and Patrick Michaels and others of a similar mind. These names are familiar enough so that readers will understand me when I say that the first letter was of the form “Is too!“, the later answering “Is not!

Letter two begins, after explaining that its purpose is to rebut the authors of letter one, with

We, the undersigned, totally disagree with them and would like to take this opportunity to briefly state our side of the story.

The eighteen climate alarmists (as we refer to them, not derogatorily, but simply because they view themselves as “sounding the alarm” about so many things climatic) state that…

Sarcasm, humor, and bombast have their place in this debate, but a playground “They started it!” is not the ideal way to address Congress. And nobody is buying the demure claim that “We mean ‘alarmist’ in a good way,” especially considering that phrase is littered throughout the letter. These techniques, and the non-arresting language used throughout, make the effort too easy to dismiss. I believe an opportunity has been missed.

How much better to have begun:

New Letter

To the Members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate:

We believe that many of our brother and sister scientists are too certain of themselves regarding climate change. We have looked at the same data and same models that they have, but we have drawn different conclusions. We disagree about the range and extremity of changes and wonder if our colleagues have let their politics influence their science.

Our colleagues often point to their numbers and suggest that because many of them belong to various learned organizations, they therefore cannot be wrong. But we belong to the same organizations and we also have a large membership. Our colleagues are fond of announcing that they have polled themselves and that their resulting unanimity proves their case. But we have polled ourselves too, and we are unanimous in concluding a logical fallacy is not an ideal foundation for science. No scientific body has license to issue “Truths” determined by vote.

Earth’s climate has always changed; it has never been constant; thus we conclude that it always will change. It is also clear that mankind must have some effect on the climate. With these statements, we agree with our colleagues. We diverge when estimating the magnitude of effects.

There have not yet been accurate predictions of future climates to a level sufficient to convince us that our understanding of climate science is complete. Our colleagues say that no one has yet “provided an alternative scientific theory that adequately satisfies the observable evidence or conforms to our understanding of physics, chemistry, and climate dynamics.” This is false, alternate theories abound; but even if our colleagues’ claim were true, it does not follow that they have discovered the correct theory. This is their second fallacy.

Based on modeling efforts thus far, the level of certainty of what Earth’s future climate will be is low. Even assuming a constant climate, there exists great uncertainty in how the environment, our economy, human health, and national security are affected by the climate. Thus, projections of future threats to or changes in these things are doubly uncertain.

We must first improve our understanding of climate change before we can confidently say what will happen in other areas. Our colleagues are satisfied by “the seriousness of the charges” and say doing something is better than doing nothing. We are not convinced and would remind our colleagues that examples of unanticipated consequences of precipitous actions has a long and depressing history.

It is also strange to us that our colleagues have discovered that only bad things will happen if the planet warms. No inconvenience is so small that it will not develop into a positive menace once climate change truly begins. Every species of animal is threatened with extinction and hardship, except pests, which are projected to thrive. Warmer climes are predicted to exacerbate every malady and will palliate none. All this might be so, but it is extraordinarily unlikely.

Our colleagues finally devolve into name calling, which is, as you know, always a sign of a lack of surety. They claim that “deniers”, defined as those who disagree with them, should not be listened to because these deniers deny their theories. That many of our colleagues have convinced themselves of the unassailability of their position based on an argument as blatantly fallacious as this one causes us to view the remainder of their claims with healthy suspicion.

Lastly, our colleagues call for Congressional hearings on the state of climatology. We welcome this idea and look forward to participating.


William M. Briggs

Anybody else? (Scientists I mean.)


1Joe D’Aleo sent me a copy of the “denialist” letter a day before it went public. I took this to be an indirect invitation to sign it, but I hadn’t the time to even read it before it was sent. But this matters not: I would not have signed.


  1. George Steiner

    I have stopped reading after “our brother and sister scientists”. I think you should stick to P values.

  2. Briggs


    How very thorough of you.

  3. Mike B

    Glad to hear you didn’t sign the second letter.

    I’ve always wondered why so many global warming skeptics are such big fans of Pielke, Sr. I guess it is sort of an “enemy of my enemy is my friend” kind of thing.

    And I’ve been equally confused as to why the Greens are so against Pielke, Sr. I mean if they really grasped what Senior writes about land usage climate effects, Senior’s work could be a whole new scientific impetus for a complete overhaul of property rights.

    Drain a swamp? Bzzzzzz. Build a levee? Bzzzzzzz. Cut down some trees? Bzzzzzzzzzz. Burn a prairie? Bzzzzzzzzzzz. Put out a forest fire? Bzzzzzzzzzzzz. A lot more community organizing opportunities on those issues than on CO2 reduction/mitigation.

    Think about it. Pielke, Sr. provides a scientific framework for a Green’s wet dream.

  4. Pat Moffitt

    “Too certain” is often a strategy. The public must rank options to choose and ranking happens whether we are conscious of it or not. Claiming certainty markets your position within a complex menu.
    Mike B asked why the same researcher can be disliked by both sides. Think of this a self organizing system selecting for fit (a type of ranking). Ask yourself what is the environmental movement’s operating algorithm?

  5. Earle Williams


    I’ll sign, if a mere M.S. in Geophysical Engineering is credential enough.

    Oh those denying deniers and the denials they deny!

  6. Ray

    I remember the good old days in the 1970s when we were all going to die from global cooling. According to the climate alarmists, millions were going to die from famine in the 1980s. They even had computer programs that forcast this. When that didn’t happen the climate alarmists simply changed the disaster scenario to global warming. And of course, they swear that this time they really know what they are talking about and we must heed their warning or we are doomed. Monty Python could make a good skit out of this.

  7. pouncer

    Can I beg you to comment on Stieg, O’Donnal, and the Chladni patterns?

    To this layman, the original Stieg paper (Nature cover) seems to provoke an immediate and “consensus” reaction among the Climate Audit statistics community. It was as if everybody with practical stats experience leapt to the conclusion that Stieg has used a “square peg” method to plug a “round hole” problem — Antarctica being the round bit.

    I mean, McIntyre wasn’t even particularly interested in the warming. He put days into building graphics showing violin patterns and other neat artifacts arising from the “round hole” drum head type of symmetries he thought might arise from Antarctic data.

    Which is why the strong suggestion from “Reviewer A” that the whole Chladni discussion be omitted from the O’Donnal paper seems, at this stage, fishy.

    It’s like, are Climate disciplines actively spitting on the Wegman recommendation that they need help?

    Or is the Chladni issue in fact such a rare, or rarified, issue that no normal human (even a physicist) should have been expected to recognize the potential problem?

  8. Ken

    Humor is still the very best way to ridicule & undermine nonsense in need of being undermined. And belittling humor is best. Fear of Global Warming due to Human pollution & the need to self-punish is the New Age religion — and its high time we addressed it as such!

    In recognition that certain religious adjectives (e.g. “denier”) are already terms-of-art, I propose continuing the trend:

    Replace “alarmist/s” with “apologist/s.”

    Big Name Apologists are: “Defender(s) of the Faith”

    “Elders” works well & provides some variety

    Replace “climate scientist” (at least when used in conjunction with a Name) with “Priest,” High Priest,” Bishop, etc.

    “Prestor” (in lieu of priest) seems to work particularly well in place of “Professor” (& seems better than “Pastor”)
    ……as does “Rabbi” (though I’d generally downplay or avoid altogether use of Jewish terms due to their persecuted heritage)

    (“Reverend” doesn’t, to me, seem to have the same smooth flow in writing, but in face-to-face it seems to work as well as “sir” or “ma’am”…so does “Monsignor”)

    Lessor but significant figures could be “Deacons”

    The nattering masses the “congregation” (perhaps an improvement of the “echo chamber”?)

    The very top such Persons would be the “Cardinals” of “Climate Science”

    When writing from the perspective/tense as an insider the opportunity for cozy terms like “Brother” & “Sister” spring forth.

    This blog (?) could sponsor a vote for the “Pope” of “Climate Science.”

    EXAMPLE: As you may have heard the High Priests of climate science presided over their congregation at the Gaia Summit. Highlights of the Service (“Mass” seems a bit presumptious at this phase) include a reading from Pope Hansen’s (just for example) Epistle (may or may not have been peer reviewed) followed by Prestor Trenberth’s topsy turvey proposal to swap the null hypothesis based on consensus vote results by the Baptised Elect (those published in “peer reviewed” journals) Apologists.

    Its really amazing is how eeerily well this flows & how appropriate it seems. Sort of like Deja Vu…. Just try slipping some of that into a conversation regarding Climate & you’ll be surprised at how effortlessly your audience simply accepts the sarcasm without hardly batting an eyelash. People are already primed to accept this!!!!!

    Play with it & see. It reads like something culled from The Onion (America’s Finest News Source) even when the ONLY change made is with the silly titles.

  9. a jones

    Well I am a scientist as well as a lawyer and whilst your letter has good intentions it is verbose to the point of wandering.

    If you are to carry the argument you need to be precise and concise so as to admit of no interpretation of the words. They mean exactly what they say.

    A beta for that attempt I think.

    Kindest Regards.

  10. JH

    Both sides submitted their letters to get their point across and to seek to influence Congress directly. I think their actions are commendable regardless of who started it. If the deniers didn’t respond, one would have to resort to guesses as to what their silence means. I wouldn’t use the playground fight analogy, which could be seen as belittling, imo.

    We believe that many of our brother and sister scientists are too certain of themselves regarding climate change. We have looked at the same data and same models that they have, but we have drawn different conclusions….

    Hmmm… I don’t and can’t speak for others. If I sign this, I might be a pig in my next life (I don’t want to be a pig, but some people do) because I would be not only lying but also committing the crime of being too certain of my conclusion and myself. Seriously, besides a few climate scientists, how many people have examined the same data and SAME models (define “same models,” please) … and thoroughly understood the models and methods?

  11. Briggs

    a jones,

    Thank you. Could you kindly point out what word or phrase is most apt to misinterpretation?

    One thing this letter cannot be is petulant. Name calling will not do. Scientists are supposed, as the old myth goes, to uphold the higher moral ground. That is how we maintain our authority, by claiming a passionate, disinterested pursuit of truth.

    The letter must also answer, point by point, the challenge of first letter. This I have done. Perhaps, as you say, verbosely.

  12. Ken


    On a serious note, I thought your proposed letter was very good — and I’ve worked inside the D.C. Beltway, supporting various govt. offices, for about a decade.

    Unfortunately, opinions on this issue are strongly ideologically based, in those experts sounding the alarm, or not….and….in those politicians inclined to view & vote one way or the other.

    Thus, rationality & logic are subordinate to [shunted aside by] emotion.

    Which makes any letter asking for objective, logical review (much less expecting such an outcome) a rather futile exercise.

    Our politicians — our “hired help as Will Rogers called them — as so attuned to their constituents is is highly unlikely they will ever let logic & true facts [its a distinction needing to be noted, these days, unfortunately] get in the way of giving their voters what those voters want, or think they want.

    The good old days where our “hired help” worked to educate & influence their constituents (a manipulative tactic often referred to as “leadership”) has pretty much gone by the wayside.

    Unfortunately, history shows that the only sure way to ‘re-set’ the arrangement is for something to break & force the issue. And, it appears, some things ARE being pushed to the breaking point (though these aren’t mentioned much, if at all, in the mainstream media).

  13. j ferguson

    Flock, as in Sheep? I think you’re on the right track. We’re on our way to a new state religion that evades our proscription of such by not so self identifying. It has most of the accoutrements. Maybe the thing is Environmentalism, more than Thermal Catastrophism.

    It still lacks a creed, although past threads here have worked on what it could be.

  14. Matt,

    Very nice letter. Please add my signature–if you accept European scientists.


    PS. A minor point: Don’t you think “once climate change truly begins” contradicts “Earth’s climate has always changed; it has never been constant…”? Of course the latter formulation is correct, but my doubt is for the former (“… truly begins”).

  15. Noblesse Oblige

    Interesting that the first letter, which called those who disagree with them (holocaust) “deniers,” was signed pretty much by the ClimateGate “hockey team” members and a few others who long ago crossed the boundary between science and advocacy. They defend their now ego-invested posture ever more shrilly. Notably absent were more serious members of the community that believes human induced climate change may be a serious problem. There will be more “Currys” in the future.

  16. a jones

    Mr. Briggs

    What I will do is create a new draft, I am a bit overloaded with such work at the moment but give me a day or two.

    And then you can compare.

    Kindest Regards

  17. Dear Dr. Briggs,

    Thank you for your words and efforts on behalf of good science and responsible government. If you will have me, please add my name to your letter.


    Michael E. Dubrasich, Exec Dir
    Western Institute for Study of the Environment

  18. John A

    As a lay person, may I support your letter (third)?

    The IPCC was mandated to investigate human influence on climate. It might not have been inevitable, but is certainly natural, that those who felt all human activity since using a rock as a club has been detrimental to every living thing, including humanity itself, would be most active and seek/obtain leading positions.

    And even now, there are attempts to defend the deletion of the Medieval Warm from the “hockey stick” graph. About a year ago Dr. Phil Jones, during an interview in Australia, acknowledged the Warm, but added iit was known only for the Northern Hemisphere – “we do not know what was happening in the Southern Hemisphere.” The implication being that it was quite proper to assume (without so stating, or having any evidence) that for every degree of warming in the North there was an equal and opposing cooling in the South (and vice-versa for The Little Ice age following the Warm) – so the Mann graph is fine.

  19. Jim


    How does one become a scientist? I have always wondered.

  20. Dr. Briggs,

    I think your letter is clearly written, communicates exactly what needs to be communicated, and is certainly not too verbose.

    Well done.

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