The Heat Is Online

Santer, MacArthur "Genius Award" Winner, Blindsided by Industry Character Assassination Blitz (1996)

When the coal and oil lobby could not disprove the findings by the IPCC that global warming is under way, that it is attributable to our coal and oil burning, and that we have entered a new period of climate change, the fossil fuel industry launched a second round of attacks -- this time on the reputations and integrity of unsuspecting scientists who have been blindsided by the personal nature of the assaults.

In an auditorium of the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, in late May, 1996, two lead IPCC scientists -- Dr. Benjamin Santer and Dr. Tom M. L. Wigley -- explained about their findings at a symposium in Washington, findings which provide yet more evidence of human-induced planetary warming.

The targeting of Santer was no coincidence. Barely a month after the presentation in Washington, an article appeared in Nature, authored by Santer, Wigley and eleven other researchers, detailing their new findings -- findings the New York Times called "the most important findings in a decade." An accompanying editorial in Nature concluded that "...the results of Santer et al. -- using the available data and state-of-the-art climate models -- provide the clearest evidence yet that humans may have affected the global climate."

Addressing a standing room crowd, Santer, who is a climate modeler at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, showed how his climate modeling work confirmed that the warming of the planet cannot be attributed to the natural variability of the weather. His work demonstrates that the measurable patterns of uneven warming coincide with patterns that would result from the atmospheric buildup of carbon dioxide accompanied by the distribution of airborne sulfates. The structure of that pattern is different from warming which is due to natural variations in the weather.

Wigley, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, in a follow up presentation, demonstrated how scientists have detected that the warming is due primarily to the release of carbon dioxide by human activities.

The session was attended by a number of industry representatives, including William OKeefe, chairman of the fossil-fuel and manufacturing lobby group, the Global Climate Coalition, Donald Pearlman, a Washington attorney who represents an undisclosed number of coal and oil producers and who quarterbacks the delegations of OPEC nations at international climate talks, and Dr. S. Fred Singer, a longtime "greenhouse skeptic."

When the scientists concluded their presentations, Pearlman accused Santer of secretly altering the document. He charged him with single-handedly suppressing expressions of dissent from other IPCC scientists. He publicly derided the scientist for deviously eliminating references to scientific uncertainties.

The startling public accusations by Pearlman and O'Keefe before a packed audience in an auditorium of the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington left the two scientists visibly shaken. When Santer pointed out that one section of the chapter in question had simply been moved to another place for the sake of clarity, Pearlman scoffed at him. When Wigley pointed out that the chapter had been written by 40 scientists and peer-reviewed by 60 others, Pearlman dismissed him out of hand.

Shortly thereafter, the coal and oil lobby placed stories in the Washington Times and the trade paper, Energy Daily. The stories accused Santer of making "unauthorized" and "politically motivated" changes to the IPCC report. What the articles' readers were not told is that the stories were based on incomplete and fraudulently misleading excerpts of the IPCC document which were taken out of context and provided to the newspapers by the Global Climate Coalition. Playing on the recent "ethnic cleansing" atrocities in Bosnia, the public relations specialists of the GCC accused Santer of "scientific cleansing." The Energy Daily story, quoting extensively from the GCC handout, concluded: "Unless the management of the IPCC promptly undertakes to republish the printed versions of the underlying...report...the IPCC's credibility will have been lost."

Shortly thereafter, in an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, Frederick Seitz, director of the ideologically conservative Marshall Institute, castigated Santer for allegedly excising references to scientific uncertainty. Wrote Seitz: "I have never witnessed a more disturbing corruption of the peer-review process than the events that led to this IPCC report." (Several months later, Seitz conceded the reports of his own Marshall Institute, which consistently deny any threat to the global climate, were not based on science by merely "represent opinion.")

The story -- with all its damning and unsubstantiated allegations -- was then picked up by the New York Times.

Predictably, the next issue of Dr. Pat Michaels' coal-funded climate journal, accused Santer of raising "very serious questions about whether the IPCC has compromised, or even lost, its scientific integrity." Michaels' article referred to the Global Climate Coalition as "a concerned group" without ever referencing the oil, coal and automotive interests it represents.

Following publication of the GCC's disinformation as fact, Santer wrote all the authors of the 1995 IPCC report:

"I am taking the unusual step of writing to you directly in order to keep you apprised of some very serious allegations that have been made recently by the Global Climate Coalition (GCC)... These allegations impugn my own scientific integrity, the integrity of the other Lead Authors of Chapter 8, and the integrity of the IPCC itself.

"I am troubled that this controversy has surfaced. I had hoped that any controversy regarding the 1995 IPCC Report would focus on the science itself, and not on the scientists. I guess I was being naive."

In an interview, Santer expressed his personal dismay at the unfair and unexpected accusations. "All I want to do is to be done with this and get back to my science. But the last couple of weeks -- both for me and my family -- have been the most difficult of my entire professional career."

Forty-two IPCC scientists came to Santer's defense in a letter to the Wall Street Journal. In another letter to the Journal, Dr. Bert Bolin, chairman of the IPCC, and Sir John Houghton and Luiz Gylvan Meira Filho, co-chairs of the IPCC's working group on science, declared that Santer's handling of the chapter in question adhered meticulously to proper IPCC procedure and violated no scientific ethics. "No one could have been more thorough and honest" than Santer in incorporating the final changes into the text, they wrote.

Shortly thereafter, O'Keefe, of the Global Climate Coalition, continued the attack by calling for "an independent review" to determine whether or not Santer had substantially altered the IPCC document.

The announcement prompted Santer to write his fellow IPCC scientists "In effect, the Global Climate Coalition would like to put the IPCC -- and my own scientific integrity -- on trial."

When the coal and oil lobby found itself unable to discredit Santer, it enlisted the help of the ideologically anti-science congressman, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher. In July, 1996, Rohrabacher wrote to the US Secretary of Energy urging her to withdraw Energy Department funding from the laboratory that employs Santer. The D.O.E. has never apparently complied with that request.

On June 2, 1998, Dr. Santer won a coveted MacArthur "genius" grant for his work on climate change.