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The Oregon Petition: Can 31,000 Scientists Be Wrong?

Fri ,29/01/2010

Supposedly, 31,000 outraged scientists have signed the Oregon Petition, which says that a reduction in carbon dioxide “would harm the environment, hinder the advance of science and technology, and damage the health and welfare of mankind”. (1) That is an impressive sounding number of scientists, but considering there are 23 million scientists and engineers in the U.S., that is 0.13% of them – a mere drop in the bucket. Moreover, many of those who signed were misled and many were not scientists at all.

Who circulated the petition? The Petition Project was sponsored by the little known Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (OISM), founded by Arthur B. Robinson. Dr. Robinson was the author the infamous 1997 Wall Street Journal article headlined “Science Has Spoken: Global Warming Is a Myth” The article turned out to be a hoax. (2) Dr. Robinson was aided by Dr. Frederick Seitz, a former president of the National Academy of Science. However in the 70’s , Dr Seitz abandoned science and became a consultant to the tobacco industry. In spite of 45 million dollars of tobacco funded research, he couldn’t seem to find any link between smoking and cancer. When asked about the moral implication of taking money and shilling for big tobacco, Seitz stated, any money was good ” …as long as it’s green. I’m not quite clear about this moralistic issue.” (3)

Were all the signers scientists? In 1998, the Petition and a packet of materials was sent to thousands of Bachelor of Science students in Universities across the U.S. The packet included a copy of “Science Has Spoken: Global Warming Is a Myth”, a letter from Dr. Seitz urging action, and a supposedly “peer reviewed scientific article” claiming “increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide have no deleterious effects upon global climate”. The mailing collected 17,000 signatures. However, many of the “scientists” who signed were undergraduate students in Bachelor of Science (BS) programs. As well the sciences, one may get a BS degree in fields such as journalism, sociology, education, philosophy …. (4)

Were the materials misleading? Dr. Seitz identified himself in his letter as the past president of the NAS but did not mention his stint with the tobacco industry. The “peer reviewed scientific article” had been published in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, a journal that often publishes articles in conflict with mainstream medical opinion and certainly not a place where one would publish climatology articles. The paper had been “peer reviewed” by a board at the OISM, not by a legitimate science organization. The paper was formatted to look as if it was from the National Academy of Sciences Proceedings, which it was not. The NAS quickly responded saying the article did not come from the NAS, it had not been peer reviewed, and that “the petition does not reflect the conclusions of expert reports of the Academy.”

What about the other signatures? After the initial mailing, the Petition gained an additional 14,000 or so signature over the next ten years. The petition was on the OISM website for a time and could be signed without any form of verification. After numerous complaints about the authenticity of signatures, the OISM took the Petition off its website and is now sending the materials and a copy of the petition upon request. The site lists 35 of the signers as climatologists. However, a recent survey of scientists found: ” The strongest consensus on the causes of global warming came from climatologists who are active in climate research, with 97 percent agreeing humans play a role.” (5)

(1) http://www.oism.org
(2) http://que2646.newsvine.com/_news/2009/09/30/3334579-the-global-warming-is-a-myth-hoax
(3) http://selections.rockefeller.edu/cms/science-and-society/frederick-seitz.html
(4) http://www.sierraclub.ca/national/postings/climate-skeptic-response.html
(5) http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/americas/01/19/eco.globalwarmingsurvey/index.html