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.
From 2011-2014, Daniel Honan was the Managing Editor at Big Think. Prior to Big Think, Daniel was Vice President of Production for Plum TV, a niche cable network he helped launch in 2002. The production team he oversaw won over two dozen Emmy awards. Daniel has created numerous shows and documentaries for television, and his film credits include Stealing the Fire, a documentary on the black market for nuclear weapons technology.
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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.
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