Readers Respond to "Climate Heretic" and Other Articles

Letters to the editor from the November 2010 issue of Scientific American

Michael D. Lemonick’s “Climate Heretic” seems to suffer from a common misconception. Lemonick tends to avoid any distinction between skepticism and denial when referencing so-called climate skeptics. At the same time, he makes much of the rigidity so evident among some in the majority. Such portrayal does an injustice to serious proponents on all sides of the issue. To refer to all those in disagreement as “skeptics” implies that the vast majority of climate scientists then are credulous. 

Skepticism—true skepticism, not the intractable bias characteristic of denial—is absolutely fundamental to the scientific method. I would submit that if but a single attribute can be said to characterize climate science in the hostile public policy milieu of recent years, it is surely skepticism.

Whatever their position on a topic or their bias toward a conclusion, true skeptics will ultimately follow the evidence where it leads. Deniers, on the other hand, interpret that same evidence only as it might support their foregone conclusions. The gulf between these mind-sets is wide. In an age already rife with misinformation and scientific illiteracy, that difference should be acknowledged by scientists and journalists alike and at every opportunity.

Dom Stasi
Studio City, Calif.

Lemonick replies: Those who do not accept the general scientific consensus on climate change span an enormous range, from people who have legitimate scientific disagreements on some of the details all the way to people who distort the facts to people who declare the whole thing a socialist plot (or, alternatively, a money-making scam). It is certainly inappropriate to lump them all together, and while my piece was not primarily focused on distinguishing between the different categories, I hope it did not create the impression that I consider skepticism and denial to be equivalent. I agree that true skepticism is an integral part of the scientific method—but want to emphasize that it is practiced by those who do accept the consensus, not just by those in opposition.

Michael Moyer’s “Window Shopping for Electric Cars” [Advances] got me doing just that, but I did not compare electric cars with other Japanese or U.S. cars. Rather I looked to German-made cars sold in the U.S.

I own a 2004 VW turbodiesel station wagon. On a recent 600-mile trip on the interstates, I averaged 52 miles per gallon. I am told the latest version of this model—which sells for only $16,000—­would have made 57. Why would I want to buy a Toyota Prius when I can get two Jettas for the same money?

In Europe, about half of all new cars sold are now diesels, some of which are more fuel-efficient than a Prius. The irony is that both GM and Ford make respectable turbodiesels in Europe but declined to make any of them in North America, presumably because they feared the high EPA cleanliness standard that VW, Mercedes and BMW were able to meet. Surely it would make more sense for them to license clean diesel technology from VW and produce those cars here.

John Fitzhugh Millar
Williamsburg, Va.

In David Biello’s “Darwin Was a Punk” [Advances], Greg Graffin is quoted as saying that there are no good songs about science, but he ignores the work of Monty Python in their seminal “Galaxy Song.” It may not appeal to Graffin’s punk preferences, but not only is the song’s science apparently plausible, it is also tuneful and the best song I know that begins and ends with the performer in a refrigerator.

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