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Skepticism denied: one writer found out the hard way how sensitive the scientific community is when it comes to climate change.

IT only took 10 columns of a 26-part series for writer Lawrence Solomon to get himself into trouble. The executive director of the Urban Renaissance Institute was profiling global warming "deniers," those scientists who reject the view that climate change is man-made. But in the seventh installment, he hit a nerve. The column profiled Nigel Weiss, a Cambridge astrophysicist. The firestorm that followed is raising red flags for anyone questioning which way the scientific wind is blowing when it comes to climate change.


Solomon says he deliberately chose the provocative term "deniers" to label the people he profiled, because he felt it was a tongue-in-cheek way to suggest that those who question the line on climate change are shunned from society, as are those who deny the Holocaust. "There is a tarring of scientists who question the science as being agents of the oil industry or somehow ill-motivated," he says. Fear of such treatment fuelled a passionate outcry from Weiss that Solomon says was beyond reason.

Weiss was exactly the type of distinguished expert Solomon liked to profile. He first found out about Weiss in a September article written by journalist Stuart Clark for the New Scientist. The article focused on a group of scientists, Weiss among them, who forecast a new era of global cooling brought on by the sun. The article held that global warming will be offset by the sun's cooling effects. Weiss says, "Although the direct quotes in that article of what I said were accurate, the rest of the article reflected Clark's opinions and not mine."

But Solomon picked up on the theme in his Jan. 12 National Post column, in which he said that Weiss agreed climate change science was "anything but settled." Solomon says he e-mailed Weiss prior to writing the article, but received no response from the scientist.

After reading the column, Weiss sent a letter to the National Post stating that Solomon's portrayal of him was a "slanderous fabrication," that he did believe the current warming of the Earth is caused by greenhouse gases, and that "global temperatures will rise much further unless steps are taken to stop the burning of fossil fuels." His letter also said that compared to these effects, the sun's cooling would be "unimportant, however interesting it may be to astrophysicists like me."

Solomon's editor at the Post, Terence Corcoran, published the letter and says, "We only got the letter three weeks after the column appeared. Curiously, it appeared the same day the [International Panel on Climate Change] released its report."

Also on the same day, Cambridge took the unusual step of issuing a press release clarifying Weiss's views, saying the "reports" that Dr. Weiss thought solar cooling would outweigh global warming were untrue.

Solomon says he was "perplexed" by Weiss's letter and e-mailed him a second time, again with no response. "I thought the letter was inconsistent with the New Scientist article," he says. On Feb. 9, Solomon wrote another of his "deniers" columns in which he mentioned that Weiss "denies being a denier," and quoted Weiss's complaint about having been misrepresented.

Then Corcoran received a libel notice, which he suspects was the fallout of a blog entry by Richard Littlemore, a speechwriter and freelance journalist. Littlemore posted on DeSmogBlog, a climate change website led by Jim Hoggan, chair of the Suzuki Foundation, that Weiss had been "defamed," which had caused him "a good deal of embarrassment among serious scientists."

Upon receiving the notice, the Post wrote an "Apology to Dr. Weiss," which now appears atop Solomon's columns about Weiss in databases and online. For its part, DeSmogBlog was satisfied, saying the Post "deserved some credit" for its apology, even if it took an "inexcusably long time to write." Weiss seems satisfied, as well, saying that the "false description of my views" was corrected by an "apology and retraction, following legal action on my part."

But for Corcoran and Solomon, the incident is a troublesome example of academic intolerance. Corcoran says there "are signs [Weiss] was under pressure," and Solomon goes further: "This is chilling. It stifles debate. It shows what happens if you dissent in the scientific community."
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Title Annotation:GLOBAL WARMING
Author:Smith, Jordan Michael
Publication:Western Standard
Date:Jul 30, 2007
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