Environmentalism

Reason Writers About Town: Ron Bailey on Obama's Pick for Science Advisor

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Writing today at Forbes.com, Reason's science correspondent, Ronald Bailey, takes a look at what the activist career of President Barack Obama's new science advisor, John Holdren, tells us about how open he is to scientific and policy debates: 

Holdren early on exhibited an unlovely tendency to try to enforce ideological conformity on his fellow scientists and activists. Back in 1972, he and Ehrlich disagreed with environmentalist Barry Commoner on whether population or technology was worse for environment. This dispute exploded into the public when Commoner disclosed a letter Ehrlich and Holdren had sent to numerous scientific colleagues revealing that the two had pressed Commoner not to debate in public which of the factors was most important because that would undermine the realization of environmental goals.

Commoner was outraged that the two wanted to shut down debate and enforce an environmentally correct united front. If this is what Holdren would attempt to do to an errant fellow environmentalist, it's no surprise the fury he visits upon those who don't accept the environmental litany of doom, such as Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist.

Lomborg had the temerity to cite Holdren's humiliating lost bet with Simon in his book. In a 2002 Scientific American attack piece, Holdren characterized Lomborg's chapter on energy as being "devoted almost entirely to attacking the belief that the world is running out of energy," which "only a handful of environmental researchers, if any at all, believe this today."

Actually, the chapter can be far more accurately described as critiquing the concept of peak oil. Lomborg opens it by citing a 2000 article from E: The Environmental Magazine entitled "Running on Empty," propounding the "peak oil" hypothesis. Clearly, some prominent environmentalists do still believe the world is running out of oil.

Read all about it here

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  1. Oh and Peter, I almost forgot, why don’t you just go on and come in Sunday…..mmkay?

  2. ?h and Peter, I almost f?rg?t, why d?n’t y?u just g? ?n and c?me in Sunday…..mmkay?

  3. HTML pwn’d.

  4. to be pedantic, the world probably is running out of oil, since the gological/biological processes that produce it are probably running at a slower rate than human consumption.

    With that being said, proven reserves seem to be increasing, and much of the slowdowns in production seem to be politically motivated. In other words, if it really mattered, production could be increased into the foreseeable future.

    On the other hand, much of what we call proven reserves are reserves reported by state operated oil firms: they may not be fully honest. 😉

  5. Ah, so Holdren is the guy behind the articles that undermined the last shred of respect that I had for Scientific American. Thanks.

  6. Yes, I had a similar reaction–Scientific American has become quite political. How does that happen to a science magazine?

  7. “Yes, I had a similar reaction–Scientific American has become quite political. How does that happen to a science magazine?”

    The same way it happens everywhere else:

    money talks.

  8. Oh good, he can study the impact of the Obama children sing-along…

    How to control a herd of humans
    HITLER and Mussolini both had the ability to bend millions of people to their fascist will. Now evidence from psychology and neurology is emerging to explain how tactics like organised marching and propaganda can work to exert mass mind control.

    Scott Wiltermuth of Stanford University in California and colleagues have found that activities performed in unison, such as marching or dancing, increase loyalty to the group. “It makes us feel as though we’re part of a larger entity, so we see the group’s welfare as being as important as our own,” he says….

  9. Wasn’t Simon’s bet with Ehrlich, not Holdren?

  10. The same way it happens everywhere else:

    money talks.

    Yes, Gibert. The editorial staff has been BRIBED. That must be it!

  11. I was thinking about looking at the LogicalErrors in this: iht.com/articles/2008/08/04/opinion/edholdren.php

    It was right there in my extensive to-do list, but I never got around to it.

    Oddly enough, it has the same errors as other “debunking” articles, such as the one from Dave Weigel on a different topic. Of course, Reason will only be able to see the flaws in such “debunking” articles when the “debunking” goes against the interests of certain persons or groups.

  12. Elemenope,

    I’m not going to speculate on the cause of the politicization of SciAm, but it does appear to be real. Not just on AGW, either. However, one suspects that the increasing federalization of research funding plays some role, though perhaps an indirect one.

    Speaking of science media, did anyone catch the Nova last night on the NSA and 9/11?

  13. Speaking of science media, did anyone catch the Nova last night on the NSA and 9/11?

    I meant to tape it but forgot (next I’ll forget to pay my taxes – haha).

    Is it worth trying to get a copy? I though Frontline’s Bush’s War was awfully good, not sciences, so much, of course.

  14. “science” should be singular, not plural.

  15. On the other hand, much of what we call proven reserves are reserves reported by state operated oil firms: they may not be fully honest. 😉

    But are they understating (to keep the price up) or overstating (to bolster national pride, lure exploration investment, etc.)?

  16. Ditto tarran. We may not be running out of oil, right now, but it seems to be a near finite resource that we can, and may, run out of eventually, but I don’t see a need to panic short term, or even medium term.

  17. Isaac,

    I thought it was interesting, though they roughed up NSA pretty good and probably not entirely fairly. It’s pretty much what we all know–NSA had the data (e.g., phone conversations) but not the capacity to understand it or to share it appropriately. And since 9/11, we’ve opened the door to domestic spying by NSA much more than we did before.

  18. Okay, Obama signs the fair pay act, he tries to appoint tax cheats to run the economy and nationalize health care, he starts setting pay scales in what used to be the private sector, he appoints an enviro-fundie as a science advisor, …this honeymoon may be short.

  19. But wait, if the Earth is less than 6,000 years old and all that oil is solely from animals that died in that time frame, we should be cool for a good long while, surely the Apocalypse will come before oil is a concern.

    I mean, we’d be totally screwed if it took hundreds of millions of years worth of dead animals to create all that oil and we used it all up in 150 years. Whew!

  20. I find this an ironic post by Ron Bailey.

  21. Neu Mejican,

    I so much prefer your trolling to OLS nee lonewacko. It doesn’t make any more sense, but it is quicker to scan and move on. Thanks.

  22. Mel: The famous Simon bet was with Ehrlich, Holdren and Harte.

  23. I’m not going to speculate on the cause of the politicization of SciAm, but it does appear to be real.

    Same happened to New Scientist. It used to be a pretty sweet science magazine, but turned left-wing environmentalist around three years ago (as I make it out). I stopped subscribing, later resubscribed thinking it was just me, then cancelled my subscription when I realized it was worse than ever.

    I also got the sense it was because money talks, in the sense that a big chunk of their readership wanted it that way.

  24. Will Obama science be worse than Bush science? It’s possible. Will Obama trade policy be worse than Bush trade policy? It’s very possible.

    Do I miss Bush? No. Do I miss McCain? No. It’s such a seriously imperfect world!

  25. Let me be clear: I think you will all find Obama’s latest choice to be a man of integrity. I understand Barry has had many conversations with Mr. Holdren and has verified he has correctly filed and paid his taxes with no false deductions or hidden income. He has also not hired illegal immigrant labor, nor has he discussed any matters with the former governor of Illinois, hired prostitutes, or engaged in homosexual behaviour in a public restroom.

    Thank you,

    Sincerely

    David Axelrod

  26. “Yes, Gibert. The editorial staff has been BRIBED. That must be it!”

    Indeed it is.

    So glad you agree.

  27. PL

    As I understand it, though, for all the mountains of data we’re getting, we still don’t have nearly enough Arab speakers to translate and analyze it all in anywhere near a timely fashion.

    So, we are, perhaps, in the boat, all over again, as it were.

  28. Rimfax,

    Thanks.
    You may be the first person to ever accuse me of being concise.

    Are you saying you don’t find it ironic?

  29. I was disappointed in the NOVA on the NSA.

    I wanted them to go deeper into the science behind some of the data mining technology. I mean, it is a science show after all.

  30. The operations of the NSA are confidential to a stupid degree; if NOVA was able to get an hour without having to turn to conspiracy theorists they did a good job. IIRC, the NSA holds numerous copyrights for encryption/data mining but are not required to divulge them beyond sending legal notices to those infringing upon them, and they could quite possibly have a backdoor to the standard random number generating algorithm.

  31. “…Scientific American has become quite political. How does that happen to a science magazine?”

    Someone on the editorial board decided the magazine needed to be more “relevant”. Being a science digest for the layman was not exciting enough, I suppose.

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