Skip to content

Burn the Witch! Roger Pielke Jr. Hunted Out At FiveThirtyEight

Charles C. W. Cooke, National Review

Well, this was predictable. Per Talking Points Memo:

Roger Pielke Jr. said Monday that he left FiveThirtyEight, ending a short-lived but turbulent stint with the site launched by Nate Silver earlier this year.

Pielke, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado, told Discover Magazine that after editors at the site “showed some reluctance” in publishing his work, he told FiveThirtyEight managing editor Mike Wilson that “it was probably best that we part ways.”

Pielke’s time at FiveThirtyEight got off to a stormy start shortly after the site went live in March. In his first piece for the site, Pielke wrote that the increased cost of natural disasters is not the result of climate change — a premise that was heavily criticized.

Pielke wrote a follow-up to that article two days later, and Silver commissioned a rebuttal the following week. But Pielke only wrote three more piecesfor the site after that, all of which focused on sports and not climate.

The viciousness with which the Left will turn on its own if they step even slightlyout of line really is something to behold. As I noted earlier in the year, Pielke’s hiring was met with a full-on freakout:

“Disinformer!” the Daily Kos screamed. “One of the country’s leading tricksters on climate change,” charged the Huffington Post. “Inaccurate and misleading,” was ThinkProgress’s measured verdict. Even that doyen of professionalism and sworn enemy of hyperbole, Michael Mann, weighed in, knocking his foe for his “pattern of sloppiness.” The pile-on was as predictable as it was unjust. At root, Pielke’s biggest crimes are to have walked at slightly different pace than his peers and to have refused to bow to the president. Pielke accepts the IPCC’s view of the climate-change question but suggests in parallel that man’s response is unlikely to have a “perceptible impact on the climate for many decades” and that civilization should thus adapt to, rather than attempt to prevent, change. Elsewhere, Pielke has corrected Barack Obama’s “science czar,” John Holdren, who has recently taken to claiming that everything under the sun is the product of global warming — droughts, hurricanes, wildfires — and who never misses a chance, in Pielke’s words, to “[exaggerate] the state of scientific understanding.” For this unconscionable resistance to fashion, Silver and his hire were marked for destruction.

Later, he would fall foul of Michael Mann. Per TPM:

The fallout was compounded after two climate scientists who criticized the article, Michael Mann and Kevin Trenberth, came forward citing emails Pielke sent them.

“Once again, I am formally asking you for a public correction and apology,” Pielke wrote to Trenberth in an email, which was shared with the Huffington Post in March. “If that is not forthcoming I will be pursuing this further. More generally, in the future how about we agree to disagree over scientific topics like gentlemen?”

Pielke called the criticism “pretty coarse and perhaps even libelous” in his email to Trenberth, and he used similar language in his email to Mann.

“I see you quoted in the media characterizing my work, and in light of your ongoing lawsuit related to libel, I want to make sure that you have been quoted correctly,” Pielke said in the email, which was provided to TPM by Mann.

Pielke went on to cite three instances in which he claimed Mann engaged in “false and potentially libelous smears.”

In an interview with Discover Magazine, published yesterday, Pielke was resolute, suggesting that Nate Silver should have shown more “editorial backbone” and explaining that he could not fulfill his role if was expected to self-censor. “Seeing a campaign organized to have me fired from 538 also taught me a lesson about the importance of academic tenure,” he told Keith Kloor. Moreover:

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?  Clearly Nate is a smart guy, and I suspect that he knows very well where the evidence lies on this topic. 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.

Worst of all, Pielke argued, was the manner in which respected academics and journalists piled on. While the vitriol that was pushed his way, he said, was “a pretty strong indication that (a) your arguments matter and (b) people have a hard time countering them on their merits,” he was surprised to see the likes of Paul Krugman and John Holdren jumping in. “That they make such false claims with apparently no consequences says something about the nature of debate surrounding climate.” Indeed it does. But does it really matter? Ultimately, Krugman, Holdren, and all of the other sordid little conductors of the hive-minded mob got exactly what they wanted – ensuring in the process that the next editor who thinks it might be fun to include someone heteredox on his team will quickly see his outlet condemned in toto. Another win for the machine.

National Review 29 July 2014