The Curious Case of Richard Muller, Former Climate Change Skeptic

Climate change deniers lost an important ally in 2011, as Berkeley physics professor Richard Muller recently switched sides. James Lawrence Powell dissects the curious case of this former climate skeptic. 

What's the Big Idea?


Climate change deniers lost an important ally in 2011. They used to claim the Berkeley physicist Richard Muller among their ranks, although Muller claims to have been merely a skeptic, not a denier. Muller recently completed a David and Charles Koch-funded study that found the earth is in fact warming

James Lawrence Powell, the former President of Reed College, has published The Inquisition of Climate Science as a primer on the climate change denier community. Powell investigates the published works of the likes of Viscount Monckton of Brenchley and Bjorn Lomborg, and shows how these authors' works are rife with errors and cherry-picked bits of scientific data. For instance, as Powell points out, Lomborg's book The Skeptical Environmentalist contained 318 mistakes, or about one per page. 

And yet, according to Powell, Richard Muller is not a con artist like Monckton or Lomborg. Muller is a serious scientist, which made his stubborn refusal to accept peer-reviewed science all the more curious. In the video below, Powell describes the significance of Muller's Berkeley Climate Study and what lessons we can learn from Muller's unexpected conversion. 

Watch the video here:

What's the Significance?

"I think what we could learn from the case study that Muller did," says Powell, "is that [Muller] should have trusted the other scientists and the peer review process which had produced the data that he was questioning."

In an article Muller published in The Wall Street Journal, he argued that two years ago everyone should have been a skeptic. Powell points out that "two years ago you had 98 percent of the climate scientists in the world saying that they accepted human-caused global warming." It was "a little offensive," and "arrogant," Powell says, for Muller to "refuse to believe this" until he did it himself. Imagine if every scientist acted that way. If that were the case, we would be "at least a century behind where we are right now," says Powell.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Follow Daniel Honan on Twitter @Daniel Honan

Got a question for a real NASA astronomer? Ask it here!

NASA astronomer Michelle Thaller is coming back to Big Think to answer YOUR questions! Here's all you need to know to submit your science-related inquiries.

Videos

Big Think's amazing audience has responded so well to our videos from NASA astronomer and Assistant Director for Science Communication Michelle Thaller that we couldn't wait to bring her back for more!

And this time, she's ready to tackle any questions you're willing to throw at her, like, "How big is the Universe?", "Am I really made of stars?" or, "How long until Elon Musk starts a colony on Mars?"

All you have to do is submit your questions to the form below, and we'll use them for an upcoming Q+A session with Michelle. You know what to do, Big Thinkers!

Keep reading Show less

Why eating ice cream is linked to shark attacks

Why are soda and ice cream each linked to violence? This article delivers the final word on what people mean by "correlation does not imply causation."

popular
  • Ice cream consumption is actually linked to shark attacks.
  • But the relationship is correlative, not causal.
  • It's pretty stunning how media outlets skip over this important detail.
Keep reading Show less
Change.org
Politics & Current Affairs
  • The tongue-in-cheek petition, whose stated aim is to reduce the national debt, has been signed more than 8,600 times as of Tuesday.
  • Selling Montana, the fourth largest state in the country, would constitute the largest land deal since the Louisiana Purchase.
  • The national debt is often a source of concern for individuals, but the chances of the U.S. defaulting on its debts are relatively low — in part because the bulk of the national debt is owned by the American public.
Keep reading Show less

The answer to Skynet? A democratically controlled supermind.

The plan to stop megacorps from owning superintelligence is already underway.

Videos
  • A.I. technology is often developed within the proprietary silos of big tech companies. What if there was an open, decentralized hub for A.I. developers to share their creations? Enter SingularityNET.
  • The many A.I.s in the network could compete with each other to provide services for users but they could also cooperate, giving way to an emergent-level mind: artificial general intelligence.
  • SingularityNET is powered by blockchain technology, meaning whatever 'digital organism' emerges will not be owned or controlled by any one person, company or government.
Keep reading Show less