Professor Quits FiveThirtyEight Blog After Anti-Global Warming Article Backlash

Environmental studies professor Roger Pielke, Jr. has quit Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight blog over a controversy that arose after he wrote a post denying that global warming is responsible for the increasing costs of recovery from natural disasters.

Pielke, a professor in the Environmental Studies Program and a Fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), reported to Discover Magazine that over the last month he began to find that his work was being rejected by FiveThirtyEight. So, he told editor Mike Wilson that he quit.

The controversy grew after Pielke posted a March 19 story he entitled, "Disasters Cost More Than Ever–But Not Because of Climate Change."

As soon as he posted the piece, the laymen critics in Silver's audience began to attack him for daring to deviate from the idea that global warming causes all of the earth's ills.

In his interview at Discovery, Pielke lamented the editorial cowardice of Nate Silver, who sat back and allowed Pielke's critics to go so far as to organize an effort to have him fired at the blog, not to mention ultimately showing reluctance to support him by posting new pieces.

"I do wish that 538 had shown a bit more editorial backbone, but hey, it is his operation. If a widely published academic cannot publish on a subject which he has dozens of peer-reviewed papers and 1000s of citations to his work, what can he write on?" Pielke said.

The professor also said that he has a suspicion that Silver "knows very well where the evidence lies on this topic" but refused to fully support him over the whole thing for whatever reason.

Pielke also criticized the whole atmosphere at the blog, saying, "For me, if the price of playing in the DC-NYC data journalism world is self-censorship for fear of being unpopular, then it is clearly not a good fit for any academic policy scholar."

Pielke was pilloried as a global warming denier--something he most decidedly is not--by such luminaries as Paul Krugman, Slate, and others after the original post went viral. Pielke said that he was shocked at how some of these people and outlets lied about him.

As he told Discovery, "It is remarkable to see people like Paul Krugman and John Holdren brazenly make completely false claims in public about my work and my views. That they make such false claims with apparently no consequences says something about the nature of debate surrounding climate."

Pielke also noted that too often in the global warming debate people on the left side of the argument resort to name calling almost immediately: "There is a common strategy of delegitimization used in the climate debates. It seems that labeling someone a 'denier' offers a convenient excuse to avoid taking on arguments on their merits and to call for certain voices to be banished."

But despite the attacks on him, Pielke says that the whole controversy probably hasn't hurt his standing in the academic community too much.

"Ultimately, what I learned from the 538 episode is how small and insular the community of self-professed 'climate hawks' actually is," Pielke insisted. "Sure they made a lot of noise online and got Jon Stewart’s attention. But that was because of Nate Silver’s fame, not mine. Back in the real world, outside the climate blogosphere and the NY-DC data journalism circle virtually no one knew or much cared about the 538 brouhaha, even within academia. I found that encouraging."

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at igcolonel@hotmail.com.


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