Pielke and Lomborg accused of “fact mongering”

Here’s a remarkable example of the post-truthiness of some elements of contemporary academia.

A magazine called Issues in Science and Technology has published an article Fear Mongering & Fact Mongering, by Adam Briggle, a philosopher at a third-rate institution called University of North Texas.

The article starts by dismissing the old-fashioned claptrap of Poincaré and Feynman, and then talks about research misconduct and ‘responsible’ research. But the main thrust of the article is to try to introduce a concept of “fact mongering”.

Where fear mongering can stoke irrational panic, fact mongering can cause irrational calm and complacency.

Briggle illustrates the distinction by referring to the notorious alarmist article The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells, full of irresponsible pseudo-scientific fear-mongering about “panic”, “terrors”, “death” and “destruction” (which, as I noted recently, has serious consequences for the mental health of those who fall for it).  Briggle mentions that the article was criticised by scientists, but doesn’t have the decency to link to any of these criticisms, such as this one where the Wallace-Wells article is described as “Alarmist, Imprecise/Unclear, Misleading” by a team of climate scientists including Richard Betts, Chris Colose and Victor Venema. Even Michael Mann says that it exaggerates.

Amazingly, Briggle claims that the scientists who corrected Wallace-Wells’s alarmist falsehoods were irresponsible fact-mongers:

It prompted some denunciations, but also soul-searching among the climate science community about its rhetoric. Perhaps in their desire not to be discounted as fear-mongers, scientists had become fact-mongers. They may have assumed that they don’t really have a “fact” until it is scrubbed clean of all emotion, especially fear. This is certainly not misconduct in a narrow sense, but it may well count as a form of irresponsible research. Has the climate science community hid behind neutral facts and insufficiently scared the public? If so, theirs would be a rhetorical, not a logical, failure.

Briggle highlights two people who are guilty of fact-mongering: Roger Pielke Jr and Bjorn Lomborg.  He says he was a student of Pielke’s 15 years ago, and is concerned about Pielke’s WSJ article on natural disasters (edit: paywalled, but there’s a free version available at his blog).

Thus, I was surprised to see his op-ed counseling us to be “factful” when it comes to climate change. He has, it seems, adopted Lomborg’s view that there are facts on one hand and irrational fears on the other. And the fact is that despite all the bad news, times have never been better. He argues that there is little evidence that climate change has made weather more extreme. Indeed, natural disasters are claiming fewer lives than 50 years ago, and as a proportion of global gross domestic product the costs of natural disasters have actually gone down.

Pielke has been delivering this message for years, and as with Lomborg it has earned him the ire of many environmental scientists. As far as I can tell, his thesis is logically, or empirically, flawless. It is the rhetoric of it that has me wondering. He highlights a set of facts from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) about specific weather phenomena. What he doesn’t mention are the words in bold at the top of the same report stating that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal” and changes are “unprecedented.” When Pielke says the IPCC substantiates his claims, that may be literally true, but also rhetorically questionable. When does a reasonable argument slip into cherry-picking, or cherry-picking slide into misrepresentation?

So according to Briggle, Pielke’s article in the WSJ about natural disasters should have included some statements from the IPCC that have nothing whatsoever to do with disasters.  Briggle also appears to believe that the concept of using facts to rebut irrational fears is a new idea invented by Lomborg. And that Pielke’s logical, flawless thesis is rhetorically questionable.

Pielke has a letter in response (and there are other letters too), published in the same journal and also posted at his blog.

I’ve long argued that the world has seen a dramatic drop in lives lost to disasters, and that as poverty around the world has been reduced, the economic toll of disasters has not increased as fast as increasing global wealth. This is indeed good news. These are hardly controversial views, as they are also conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which produces periodic assessments of climate science, impacts, and economics, as well as being indicators of progress under the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

He says that Briggle is “late to the party”, mentioning previous smears that he has been subjected to for failing to join in the fear-mongering.  Briggle’s article

represents yet another effort from within the academy to silence others whose views are deemed politically unwelcome or unacceptable. At most research institutions, the penalties for researchers who engage in FFP are severe, and often include termination of employment. Of course, Briggle is not alone in sending a powerful and chilling message about which views are deemed acceptable and which are not.


56 thoughts on “Pielke and Lomborg accused of “fact mongering”

  1. Here’s Lomborg’s response


  2. So, presumably, in Briggle’s mixed up, muddled up, shook up world, having in one’s possession “logically and empirically flawless” facts and publicly sharing those facts is equivalent to having one’s cake and eating it.


  3. A Briggle. A brittle niggle?

    I’ve just read the last three Cliscep threads. Apologies that it’s been a long while since I did that. They’re all a pleasure to take in.

    The stupidity of the attack on Pielke and Lomborg says once again that consensus central knows it’s losing grip, as shown in France (as explained powerfully by Geoff).

    Liked by 2 people

  4. What is philosophy coming to, even in North Texas?
    So odd that a factmonger (a purveyor of facts) should be considered negatively. It’s crazy.
    Briggle gives academics a bad name.

    Would you buy a used concept from this man?


  5. Thanks for this Paul. Sometimes I really wonder about the whole academic establishment and its increasing devotion to ideology. I no longer donate to Universities.

    Morally and ethically the obligation of scientists is to tell the truth, to not ignore differing opinions, and to not succumb to political activism or indeed exaggeration and misleading people. Resplandy anyone?

    Anyone who is warmer than room temperature must realize that on balance the media are falsely scaring the public about lots of things including climate change. They cover up things that can’t be blamed on their current list of witches. That helps no one except the bank accounts of the media who can still get people to tune in for such emotional “stimulation.” I have come to distrust anything I read in the media. When I see a scientific paper with a political press release, I want to find the papers that give a counter point.

    For science the real problem is one of trust. The public has gradually lost confidence in elites in Western cultures. That is affecting science as it has become less objective and more activist.


  6. Editor: You are on notice that we shall be following the same policy here regarding comments as you do at your site. Which is to say, anything we don’t like we will edit or delete.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is a site that is largely dismissive of the risks associated with AGW. Most here seem to think that it’s exaggerated, not a big deal (if it exists at all), and isn’t something we need to do much about. Here you are defending two of those highlighted in Adam Briggle’s article. That would seem to suggest that these are people who present information in a way that people here find appealing. That would seem to suggest that at least part of what is being highlighted in the article is broadly correct; rhetoric is important.

    Clearly the message coming from many researchers is that AGW is serious, could have substantial negative impacts in the not too distant future (some of which may already be materialising) and will require significant action soon. Yet two people who claim to be presenting information that is consistent with the available evidence seem to be saying things that appeal to people who are largely dispute the seriousness of anthropogenically-driven climate change.

    So, even if you believe that the latter is the appropriate message, it doesn’t really change that this illustrates the importance of rhetoric. The same information can – in some cases – be used to draw quite different conclusions. That was certainly one of the points in Adam Briggle’s article and it’s hard to see how this post isn’t essentially confirming that.


  7. Ken,

    “Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is a site that is largely dismissive of the risks associated with AGW. Most here seem to think that it’s exaggerated, not a big deal (if it exists at all), and isn’t something we need to do much about.”

    You’re wrong. This is a far more accurate and subtle interpretation of the views of most people who contribute to this site, concerning the risks associated with man-made climate change:

    “If Ellsberg’s Paradox teaches us anything, it is that our aversion to uncertainty makes us do stupid things. We like to think we are rational creatures, deciding upon courses of action that promise the greatest benefit with the minimum of risk. But sadly this is not true. Most people who claim to be making a risk-based decision are doing nothing of the sort – they are, instead, being ambiguity averse. They seek the course of action that involves the least ambiguity and they wouldn’t have a clue what the risks truly are.

    Ambiguity aversion is what we sceptics stand accused of when we insist on the removal of uncertainties before committing to climate change policies. In contrast, the presupposition made by those demanding action is that the delays incurred will heighten the risk, therefore a precautionary approach is advocated.6 However, those who advocate such precaution are just as much running scared from ambiguity as the sceptics are. They would much rather go for the devil they know than accept the psychological torment that comes with the uncertainty of catastrophe. At the end of the day, this is just Pascal’s wager.”

    Quoted from John Ridgway’s excellent recent article:


    Liked by 2 people

  8. Jaime,

    You’re wrong. This is a far more accurate and subtle interpretation of the views of most people who contribute to this site, concerning the risks associated with man-made climate change:

    Whether subtle, or not, it seems clear that the views here are different to those of people who think climate change is a serious issue, that could produce significantly negative impacts, and that we should be taking action soon. I’m not trying to judge the views here, I’m simply trying to establish that the views here are broadly different from those who regard AGW as serious. Do you agree?


  9. Further to above comment Ken, Briggle’s ludicrous definition of “fact-mongering” is but another perverse and bizarre attempt to remove uncertainty from the debate. Also from John’s article above:

    “Of course, the other way of avoiding having to deal with ambiguity is to convince oneself it doesn’t exist – a strategy that seems to lie behind much of the rhetoric that increasingly dominates the climate change debate. It seems that the possibility of future catastrophe is no longer motive enough to take evasive action; what we need instead is the certainty of such catastrophe. Surely, according to the rhetoric du jour, there is no uncertainty and it is not a matter of risk. In fact, we are not even talking about the future. Just look at what is happening right now! And yet, in the midst of all of this, we still have the conspiracist merchants of doubt, seemingly unaware that there is no longer any room for their merchandise. Why aren’t these people in jail already?

    Well, this might be the sort of self-assured narrative that suits those who do not like ambiguity, but it certainly doesn’t help when the reality is that we are attempting a risk-based decision in the face of deep uncertainties that obscure the levels of risk. One can speak of climate change deniers, but there is nothing more denialist than the construction of a fantasy world bereft of ambiguity, just because one desperately seeks a gamble that is free from it.”


  10. Yes Ken, it is self-evidently obvious that the views here are divergent from the mainstream approach to managing the risk associated with climate change. But it is wrong to say that the majority here are simply dismissive of the risk identified; it is more that it has been incorrectly processed, assessed and responded to.


  11. Jaime,
    Fine, I wasn’t trying to be judgemental. I was simply making the point that your views are divergent from the mainstream and you seem to find the rhetoric presented by those highilighted in Adam Briggle’s article appealing. Those highlighted typically claim to be presenting information that is consistent with, for example, the IPCC and yet what they present seems to appeal to those who have views that are divergent from the mainstream. Hence that would seem to be consistent with one of the things being highlighted in the article; rhetoric can influence how people interpret what is being presented.


  12. > That would seem to suggest that these are people who present information in a way that people here find appealing

    Being honest is appealing to some people. Not to you evidently.

    This post isn’t about Lomborg and Pielke, it’s about the irresponsible post-truth agenda of Briggle.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Ken,

    “Fine, I wasn’t trying to be judgemental. I was simply making the point that your views are divergent from the mainstream and you seem to find the rhetoric presented by those highilighted in Adam Briggle’s article appealing.”

    Regardless of whether you were trying or not to be judgemental, the effect of your incorrect statement was to invite judgement from the ill informed.

    Speaking personally, it is not Pielke’s ‘rhetoric’ that I find of interest, it is his factual assessment of the evidence (or lack of) for climate change affecting the incidence of extreme weather. I suspect most sceptics share my opinion in that regard. Focusing exclusively on Pielke Jr.’s alleged poor manner of delivery of those facts is totally disingenuous, akin to throwing out the baby with the bathwater.


  14. Jaime,

    Regardless of whether you were trying or not to be judgemental, the effect of your incorrect statement was to invite judgement from the ill informed.

    Sounds like you’re suggesting that I engaged in irresponsible rhetoric 😉

    Editor: No, but I am accusing you of irresponsible deleting of comments at your blog. Our team will work together on deciding how your comments will be treated at this venue going forward.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Lomborg and Pielke are condemned and trashed by Ken and his peers for not lying and misrepresenting the facts sufficiently enough for the climate consensus.
    And like a true banal ignorati, he comes here to tssk tssk those who point that out. His willingness to come ask idiotarian questions here while strictly censoring skeptics at his blog is always worth noting. It is proof of his bad faith and closed mindedness.
    Ken fits right in with the anti-intellectual, anti-ethical culture of the climate consensus and it’s philosopher.
    Wasn’t there a paper Ken put his name on that would never be accused of “fact mongering”?
    But the Ken is at home with the 3rd rate level of intellect and ethics that the climate consensus culture thrives in.
    If Ken’s ability to miss a point pervades other aspects of his life, he could trip and deny he hit the ground.


  16. Being human, we can never be free of rhetoric. Nor likely, could we operate as a society without some (it is a means of mass persuasion that we cannot currently replace, wholly). But to say that a lack of rhetoric is essentially a (dangerous) rhetoric in itself, is I think a problem at the heart of the Briggle article. From the article:

    “…Lomborg made the rhetorical decision to choose a set of facts that are not scary. But his critics had plenty of frightening facts to throw back at him.”

    If the latter facts are indeed scary of their own accord, and not because of added rhetoric, then this is fine and may the facts do battle. But if those frightening facts are only frightening because of rhetoric, then this is not a fair battle because rhetoric, especially of the highly emotive / scary variety, adds a powerful ingredient for persuading mass audiences.

    “As far as I can tell, his [Lomborg’s] thesis is logically, or empirically, flawless.”

    Everyone who makes an argument will stake a position; it is a high accolade to say that position is flawless. If, as Briggle later implies, there is nevertheless a super-set argument that is much more scary, then as long as this is by intrinsic virtue of its facts not merely by added rhetoric, Lomborg’s thesis could never have been flawless to start with. Acknowledging that humans cannot probably zero out rhetoric, doesn’t mean that we should let it overwhelm the facts, and with this in mind we do know, at least theoretically and in the long-run if not always at the moment of delivery, how much is too much. If the rhetoric leads to serious group-think within the science orgs or indeed wider society, then it’s gone too far because group-think (given enough time) will always track to an emergent (and therefore wrong) answer, rather than staying with the evidence to date or withholding judgement.


  17. ATTP must surely be one of the most irresponsible fools around, forever wringing his hands and telling us that we are doomed without any rational basis whatsoever for anything he says.


  18. Roger Pielke’s comment at Ken’s blog:

    Ken Rice: You’ve blocked me on Twitter, so I will respond once here. This is bullsh*t:

    “What I think they actually do is say a bunch of things that basically suggest that there isn’t really much to worry about and then, when challenge, say something like (I paraphrase) “climate change is real and we should do something about it”. ”

    I’ve never said anything remotely like that and much to the contrary. This is not irresponsible rhetoric, for a professor this is just unethical, full stop.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Paul, Thanks for bringing the Briggle article to our attention. Three choice quotes stand out for me:

    “Perhaps in their desire not to be discounted as fear-mongers, scientists had become fact-mongers.”

    I shudder at the thought that the scientists decided one day that they had to become fact-mongers. What were they before this epiphany? Not scientists, presumably.

    “If so, theirs would be a rhetorical, not a logical, failure.”

    But I thought that the climate change facts spoke for themselves. I jest of course.

    “…that may be literally true, but also rhetorically questionable.”

    That’s okay by me. I quite like my truth to be literal. I’m done with all of the figurative and metaphorical stuff.

    Also, Jaime, thanks for the support. It is very gratifying.

    Liked by 3 people

  20. Fact mongering requires ethics mongering and so tends to be tedious and requires things like critical thinking and rational thought.
    Fear mongering is much more streamlined since it requires nothing more than a focus on fear.
    Ken and Briggle, et al, demonstrate so well just how streamlined fear mongering really is.


  21. How fitting.

    Just this week, Blunder Woman, aka She Guevara aka Alexandria Maduro Chavez said:

    “I think that there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct, than about being morally right”.

    So, follow along here…..facts don’t matter and morality is what the Left decides it is at any given moment on any given issue.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. “I wasn’t trying to be judgemental. I was simply making the point that your views are divergent from the mainstream”

    To the contrary. Jaime’s views, and skeptics’ views are mainstream. Worrying about CO2 on a daily basis is a niche concern.

    If you are ‘mainstream’ and you drive a car and/or go about your life as usual, it is you who is ‘ largely dismissive of the risks associated with AGW.’


  23. Yes against my better judgment I read some of that ATTP post. It’s mindnumbingly silly and a waste of time to analyze people’s public record with that level of nitpicking. I guess this is what the pseudo science of “science communication” has come to. Rubbish mostly.


  24. What ATTP, Lewandowsky, Orskes, Mann & gang are after is conformity to the revealed consensus.
    ATTP, when confronted with even direct quotes about apocalyptic drivel, generally denies backing the transparent bs.
    Yet he dodges actually criticizing and never dares be as tough as Steve Mosher in trying to police his side.
    So Ken’s fleas are from the bed he chose; not an accidental infestation….

    Liked by 1 person

  25. I’m also imagining a movie inspired by “The Horse-Whisperer” starring Roger Pielke Jnr as “The Fact-Mongerer”. Those wild facts others daren’t even approach only he can tame, in the service of Mother Nature herself.


  26. In climate change there is no equality between fear mongering and fact mongering in terms of public policy or scientific method.
    Fear mongering is usually about scary stories of potential doom based of future scenarios to promote policy. Most often is to promote policies to cut carbon emissions, rather than to adapt to the changed climate. Others are promoting useless and costly policies based on nothing more than false prophesies.
    One of Roger Pielke Jnr’s sins appears in monitoring potential worsening catastrophic impacts and finding the data shows otherwise. Most notably it is monitoring trends in hurricanes and tornadoes. One piece of fact mongering is to look at the costs of hurricanes after allowing for inflation, increase in population and increase in wealth. Another is to look at the death rates due to natural disasters.
    A major sin of Bjorn Lomborg is to look at the greatest possible good that can be done with a finite quantity of resources. Using this basis financing NGOs and Government officials to go to the mass COP conferences that only produce a lot of hot air, comes well down the list of priorities. Much better would be for expert climate scientists to help better identify the type, timing, location and magnitude of catastrophic climate change. People (whether individuals, families, local groups or governments) can therefore use this information to better adapt to changed circumstances, and avoid needless costs based on fake alarmism.
    Hence the lack of equality between fear mongering and fact mongering. Fear mongering will lead to undue panic and waste of scarce resources on ineffectual and (possibly) harmful policies. Fact mongering (otherwise known as objective assessment of the evidence) will help promote measured and optimal responses. A bit like the medical profession when treating patients, the “fact mongers” seek to maximize the treatment/po;icy effectiveness, whilst minimizing the pain/costs and the risks of adverse side effects.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Andy West
    Thanks for the very long list of calls for dramatic and swift action. Scanning through it these calls are from scientists and politicians from a number of different countries. But am I right in saying that there is an extreme Western bias here? That is very few voices are from China, India, other parts of SE Asia, or the Arab world?
    The reason I ask is that the scaremongering is mostly directed at policy to stop the rise in the atmospheric levels of trace gases. That requires reducing global greenhouse emissions. Annual COP meetings since 1995 have failed to achieve this. Even when scaremongering is presented on a global stage – the most recent being the IPCC SR1.5 – has failed to significantly reduce the gap between projected and desired emission pathways. Given that emissions reduction strategies are hugely costly the scare mongering is to impose burdens on people without reducing the prospective harms. Like a lot of historical scaremongers, climate alarmists arbitrarily dismiss normal checks and balances on a pretense whilst ignoring the great harms that their actions will cause.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. I’m not sure that any of these accusations and counter-accusations of who is selling what is driving the debate forward very much. Irrespective of the blog you visit, you will find it to be an emporium selling plenty of fear, facts and, to a greater or lesser extent, doubt (plus something under the counter for its special customers). The only outlet I would steer clear of is ‘Certitudes-R-Us’.


  29. MB,

    “But am I right in saying that there is an extreme Western bias here?”

    I can’t tell for sure, because there’s definitely a significant bias caused by the fact that I was searching only in English. So outside of English speaking countries this only picks up stuff that is considered high profile enough to get translated, for whatever reason. And quotes from Merkel say or even some Scandinavian Minister or whatever, are I guess more likely to get translated than say stuff from say Indonesian or Arab leaders, although one would expect more translation from China given its weight in the world nowadays. There is stuff in translation (e.g. in UN annals) as well as much more in English too, that is milder narrative though, which helps give a feel, and I think that despite the English only window here, there is indeed a bias of catastrophe narrative from the West. I’ve generally attributed this to the fact that the West has been much more well-off than the areas you list, and still is albeit to a lesser extent. Folks can probably only worry about this issue if you can actually afford not to worry about a host of more immediate issues. But maybe the bias wouldn’t look as extreme if you searched in all languages; considering the financial benefits some of the developing areas are likely to receive, one would expect this to encourage some emotive leadership calls for action that may also invoke catastrophe, as can be seen in English from leaders of some of the small island nations.


  30. Yes, NTU is well known for excellent music, nursing and teaching programs.
    It is the true gem of Denton, Tx, lol.
    The gem losses it’s luster when anti-intellectual academics push the idea that “fact mongering” is a problem and not the goal.


  31. …..My bad!
    UNT, not NTU!!

    That’ll be “NTSU” to you, sir!

    Or so it was when I attended there . . .


  32. Pingback: Pielke and Lomborg accused of “fact mongering” | Watts Up With That?

  33. Pingback: Pielke and Lomborg accused of “fact mongering” |

  34. “Adam Briggle, a philosopher at a third-rate institution called University of North Texas”

    A non-scientist from some institution which wouldn’t even be called a ‘university’ in the EU, has problems with people with actual relevant degrees from actual universities (from the top 100 in the world) because they state some simple facts? Inconvenient truths indeed.


  35. Paul:

    Oh no worries . . . just horsing around a little bit. Honestly, I was only there for a semester, after which I retired to take what I learned and become a rock and roll star. Since that never panned out, you must’ve been right all along.



  36. XR as fact-lite fear-mongers, Barry? Absolutely not. They have lots of facts. Eg:

    ‘97% of climate scientists agree that climate change presents a serious threat to our civilisation and quite possibly our survival as a species.’

    ‘Based on the science, we have ten years at the most to reduce CO2 emissions to zero, or the human race and most other species are at high risk of extinction within decades.’

    Climate change will cause mass starvation within ten years.

    The End-Permian Mass Extinction was caused by something called ‘nitrate sulphide’.

    Basic maths and basic science tell us that something called ‘juropedence’ means that the British government is to the right of Hitler because it is deliberately planning to gas not just 6 million people but the entire human race.

    With Luck, this event in London on Tuesday…


    …will see a mongering of facts about XR’s genesis at an ayahuasca retreat in Costa Rica.


  37. Yes, NTSU it is.
    Of course their philosopher prince may single handedly get the school’s accreditation pulled, so the acronym could be shrunk or changed….


  38. Yes, NTSU it is.

    Well no, it isn’t any longer actually . . . hasn’t been since 1988 when it was changed to it’s current, “University of North Texas,” or, “UNT.” Hence my, “when I attended there,” caveat.

    Hmmm . . . I’ve just come along and made a confusing mess for a couple of silly little jokes haven’t I? If only I could do that as well as Brad! But since I am not able, I’ll just say my apologies and be running along now!


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