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Anthony Watts: Dooming the Planet?

Wed ,21/07/2010

The interview: It’s a powerful story. In an interview with Tom Minchin titled ” Doomed Planet” , Anthony Watts tells how he went from a simple student questioning the reliability of Purdue’s  weather station to a science skeptic saving the world  from “Noble Cause Corruption”.  (1) Watts, editor of the anti-science website Wattsupwiththat, is now on a tour of Australia where he is spreading his message to the faithful for $25 a ticket. As one of Anthony Watts’ followers commented on the interview:

“Anyone who is an engineer or scientist can understand what turned Anthony from a believer in anthropogenic global warming to a skeptic.”

That’s apparently money, influence, fun, and perhaps a little revenge.

Watt’s Career: Watts began his career at Purdue University where he studied Meteorology and Engineering. He has not been forthcoming about how long he attended, whether he graduated, or whether he is “AMS Certified”, as sometimes claimed. After he left college, he worked as a radio and TV weather presenter until he founded Wattsupwiththat, a website that posts anti-science literature and commentary. (2) Wattsupwiththat is rife with misquotes, cherry-picking, unsubstantiated claims, title inflation, attacks on scientists, and distorted research. (3) Still, Watts has a number of faithful followers who apparently are made up of disgruntled ex-scientists, those excluded from science by the required rigor, those who profit from the status quo, and members of institutes or think tanks funded by fossil fuel companies.

The Surfacestations Project: Watts has limited credentials in the field of climatology and, though amateurs sometimes make great discoveries, that is not true in his case. While at Purdue, Watts worked part time at their weather  temperature collection site. Building on that experience, Watts has established the Surfacestations Project, a study of weather stations aimed at discrediting NOAA’s temperature data. To counter his repeated attacks on the scientific data, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) did a thorough study of the temperature stations and found that their results were reliable (4). Watts lost any credibility he might have gained as a scientist when the AGU asked him to participate in the research – and he declined. And, though the Surfacestations Project is now completely discredited, Watts is still collecting donations to fund it.

The AGW Conspiracy: To justify his attacks on science, Watts claims there is a worldwide conspiracy of scientists which distorts his True Science,  the Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) conspiracy. There are advantages to inventing a worldwide conspiracy to explain  things such as:

Skeptics can’t get their ideas published? It’s not the lack of credible research, it’s “censorship” by the AGW who controls the peer review process.

Skeptics can’t get funding? It’s not  a lack of reasonable and competitive research proposals, it’s because the AGW controls the government and its funding processes.

Skeptics can’t make unfounded Climategate charges stick? It’s because of the AGW whitewash.

Skeptics can’t get their claims to agree with scientific evidence and reason? It’s because the AGW controls Reason. ??? Wattsupwiththat?

Watt’s goes on in the interview:

“I think that if you want skeptics to have an even keel in the debate, skeptics need to push their position more often and that means writing more letters to the editor, to newspapers, to magazines and trade journals and to scientific journals.”

The skeptics would, of course  have a more even keel in the debate if they did the research necessary to back up their claims. Instead, they repeat disproven hypotheses, dispute peer-reviewed research without evidence, personally attack scientists, and refuse to follow the methodology or the ethics of science.

Noble Cause Corruption: Watts has even found a psychological disorder to explain the AGW’s motives… Noble Cause Corruption, a malady once reserved for law enforcement vigilantes. According to Watts:

“A less obvious but perhaps even more threatening type of misconduct in law enforcement is Noble Cause Corruption… Noble Cause Corruption is a mindset or sub-culture which fosters a belief that the ends justify the means…. The officers who adopt this philosophy lose their moral compass. Noble Cause Corruption is a belief that what you’re doing is so much more important than what anyone else is doing because your cause is noble, you’re saving the planet, and because you’re saving the planet, you are doing it for the good of mankind…. And so all of those things combine to put a blinder on you as to what you’re really doing.”

That’s a nice bit of sophistry. Scientists who wish to be good stewards of the Earth are actually, according to Watts, guilty of Noble Cause Corruption. If that is true then his followers, who would let the Earth be destroyed through ignorance and greed, are guilty of a much worse malady called Ignoble Cause Corruption.  Indeed, if  Watts and his followers have their way, we may  end up being the “Doomed Planet”.

(1) http://www.quadrant.org.au/blogs/doomed-planet/2010/06/anthony-watts-interviewed

(2) wattsupwiththat.com

(3) Some examples, but not nearly an exhaustive list , are

(4) Menne, Matthew J.; Claude N. Williams, Jr., and Michael A. Palecki. Journal of Geophysical Research – Atmospheres (American Geophysical Union) http://www1.ncdc.noaa.gov/pub/data/ushcn/v2/monthly/menne-etal2010.pdf.