Chemical Society’s Editor Sees ‘No Difference’ After Flap on Climate Column

The e-mail blast bore all the signs of news, really big news, but the tell-tale all-caps “BREAKING” had the familiar breathlessness of just one more Marc Morano “news” flash.*


News Analysis


The back story here involves what blogger Morano called an “outpouring” of scientists’ complaints about a long-time Chemical & Engineering News editor’s column. The offending column dealt with what most expert scientists recognize as the growing seriousness of climate change.

Editor-in-Chief Rudy Baum’s June 22 column in the American Chemical Society’s flagship publication acknowledged that the science of anthropogenic climate change “is becoming increasingly well established” and, in effect, that only “diehard climate-change deniers (for brevity’s sake, CCDs)” argue otherwise.

ACS Publications Policies Support
Publications’ Editorial Independence

Baum’s take on the deniers’ “derail” strategy: “Sow doubt, make up statistics, call for an ‘open debate,’ claim that you are being ‘silenced and ignored by the media and politicians,’ claim that your opponents are just a ‘few bureaucrats and environmental activists,’ not real scientists.”

It was all raw red meat for the ravenous Morano, previously communications staffer to Oklahoma Republican Senator James Inhofe and now a prolific blogging contrarian. He wrote, perhaps wishfully, of a “climate revolt” at a major science organization. He reveled in exclamation-pointing (!) the words “CLAMOR FOR EDITOR TO BE REMOVED!”

And, insult of insults, he noted a letter writer’s plea that Baum be exiled “to The New York Times or Washington Post,” a seeming insult that many journalists might take to be unintended flattery.

So what gives?

C&EN Editor-in-Chief
Rudy Baum

A 34-year ACS employee – 29 of them with C&EN and the past five-and-a-half as its Editor-in-Chief – Baum said the tenor of the reader response to his column was “fairly typical” to what he has seen in regularly writing on climate change over the past 10 years. “What I’ve written has often generated some pretty strong negative responses,” he said in a phone interview. “What was different about this response was the intensity, the number of letters we got on the column.”

Baum said the magazine had received 30 to 40 letters on his column, “the vast majority of the first batch,” during the first four weeks, critical. “There were some supportive ones, but overall they were mostly critical.”

“I do suspect there was some coordination” behind the critical letters, Baum said, but he rejects any suggestions that the mailings had been “ginned-up.” He commented that when he replied to one writer that he would not publish a particular letter, he received four complaints about his decision within an hour or so. “So there was clearly some communications going on among the folks who were writing.” (Baum says he eventually published the letter, by an ACS non-member, in any event.)

Creation, Evolution, and now Climate Change?

“I have a pretty strong rule that when we write about a controversial topic, we publish letters pro and con in roughly the proportion that we receive them.” He makes exceptions, Baum said, when writing about creation and evolution, “because that tends to generate a lot of letters from nonmembers.”

“I’m kind of drifting in that direction, to do the same thing with climate change,” publishing pro and con letters primarily or exclusively from ACS members. “I haven’t done it, but I was moving in this direction.”

Baum said the August 24th issue of C&EN will carry “a very large chunk of letters, in this case the majority of which are supportive.”

Editorial Board Reaffirms Support for Baum

Asked about his column’s consistency with the ACS official policy statement on climate change, Baum said the two were consistent but that the very question of consistency is “completely irrelevant.” He said an earlier ACS policy on climate change had been considerably strengthened in 2007 but that he had been writing on the subject well before the group’s first policy had been adopted.

The ACS official policy “had no influence on what I write about, but it turns out that we are very much in sync,” he said. Baum said he has “total editorial independence,” as specified in ACS’s constitution and bylaws on publications policy.

Baum said the publication’s editorial board, during the group’s biennial meeting in Washington, on August 14 reaffirmed its support for his performance as Editor-in-Chief, and he said nothing has changed, as a result of the letter-writing or the Morano blogs, in how he writes his columns or subjects he writes about. “No, nothing’s changed at all,” he said.

One of the group’s mentioned in Baum’s column, the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, was exhibiting at the ACS Washington meeting in hopes of stirring up signatures supporting a softening of the ACS position paper to reflect greater uncertainty, Baum said.  It was not clear whether that effort would have much success.

* Editor’s Note: This story was edited August 19 to correct a typo.



ACS Publications Policies Support
Publications’ Editorial Independence


The American Chemical Society describes itself as “a congressionally chartered independent membership organization which represents professionals at all degree levels and in all fields of chemistry and sciences that involve chemistry.”

Those unfamiliar with the organization sometimes confuse it with the industry trade association, the American Chemistry Council, formerly called the Chemical Manufacturers Association and an entirely different entity.

ACS’s constitution and regulations detail editorial policies related to its publications, including its C&EN, the group’s official organ.

In a section on “rights and responsibilities of Editors,” the group says ACS publications “shall be edited in a manner consistent with the objectives of the SOCIETY”, with editors showing “a sense of responsibility” to members and their conflicting views and interests. Editors “are expected to edit the publications so that the articles, headings, and editorials reflect fairly, fully, impartially, and in balance the facts involved.”

Within those broad guidelines, final responsibility for editorial decisions rests with the editors, “and no attempt should be made by the Board of Directors, its members, its committees, or the Governing Board of Publishing to instruct editors in the day-to-day direction of their editorial activities.”

Editors can be replaced if their decisions “often prove to be questionable or unacceptable” to the ACS board of directors.


Bud Ward

Bud Ward is editor of Yale Climate Connections. (E-mail: bud@yaleclimateconnections.org).
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9 Responses to Chemical Society’s Editor Sees ‘No Difference’ After Flap on Climate Column

  1. Howard Neufeld says:

    Dear Bud – This is an interesting post, but not unexpected. I am married to an organic chemist who gets C&EN so I read Rudy Baum’s posts regularly. He is right on with regards to both climate change and evolution.
    What frustrates me is the number of highly conservative, and anti-science letter writers to C&EN who are climate contrarians, or worse, creationists. Without data to back me up, I would have say, based on the letters written, that there is no more conservative science/technology society than ACS. I once wrote Rudy Baum, after a spate of anti-evolution letters, all of which either spouted the traditional creationist/ID ideologies, and/or were factually wrong on the issues, that ACS members could use a good session on evolutionary theory at their next national meeting. He didn’t publish it, but seemed to beleaning that way, but ran out of space. I still retain this viewpoint – chemists appear, more so than scientists in other disciplines, to be poorly informed on evolutionary issues, socially conservative, and quick to go after the messenger, rather than the message. Does this perhaps reflect their industry orientation, or does it say something about who decides to become a chemist? I see a good psychology thesis here!
    Glad to hear Rudy’s job is not in imminent danger!
    Take care.
    Howie Neufeld, Class of ’77

  2. Marc Morano says:

    Hi Bud,
    The least you can do is include a link to my article and spell my name correctly. For interested readers, please see here for a detailed reaction and rebuttal to Baum’s silly editorial:

    http://www.climatedepot.com/a/2213/Climate-Revolt-Worlds-Largest-Science-Group-Startled-By-Outpouring-of-Scientists-Rejecting-ManMade-Climate-Fears-Clamor-for-Editor-to-Be-Removed

    Baum is in need of doing serious research on climate change and policy before he write again, his claims were truly woeful.

    Sincerely,
    Marc Morano

  3. Interglacial John says:

    “Baum’s take on the deniers’ “derail” strategy: “Sow doubt, make up statistics, call for an ‘open debate…” yeah, cause debating issues is just a right wing strategy to confuse people. i mean it’s not as if open debate could expose “made up statistics”. if the science is soooo sound, then why won’t any of you blowhards debate this? step out of the echo chamber and learn something.

  4. Dano says:

    One wonders if this strategy is the same strategy as the Swift Boat strategy.

    Nonetheless, it is interesting to see how far industry PR firms’ talking points have penetrated; it is less interesting to note that the talking points have not changed in a decade, nor has any evidence magically appeared to bolster such talking points – despite many of these talking points being refuted years ago. And numbered for convenience.

    Best,

    D

    Best,

    D

  5. Ed Moran says:

    Debate… Deliberation, consideration.
    That dictionary definition should help us put our points across without the personal rancour so often hurled at anyone who doesn’t toe the line drawn by Hanson et al. (I exclude Gore: he deserves all the opprobrium thown at him as he counts his millions.)
    Give me the science… I may even understand enough to reach some conclusions.

  6. Rob says:

    Morano is absolutely full of crap. There was no “outpouring” or “clamor.” There was not even a controversy. There was a bunch of letters spouting the usual denier’s nonsense. The vast majority of members of the ACS (I’ve been a member for 30 years) do not take exception, and do not listen to people like Morano. What he and others of his ilk cannot understand is that science is NOT decided by debate. It is decided on evidence, and all the evidence that is relevant is published in the open literature for all to see.

  7. DC says:

    Perhaps some letter writers should educate themselves, with the data reported by the Pew Center . Only 6% of scientists identified themselves as Republican, 55% as Democrat, and 32% as Independent. And more on topic, 84% of scientists believe that climate change is induced by man.

    Clearly, those who wrote to complain about Rudy Baum’s editorial were in the scientific minority.

    Pew Center Poll
    http://people-press.org/report/?pageid=1549

    There’s lots more here worth reading for those that value facts above all else.

  8. Pete Bonk says:

    A point of clarity: The Heartland Institute was not “exhibiting at the ACS Washington meeting in hopes of stirring up signatures”. I know, because it is my project to get the ACS to review and hopefully revise its “Public Policy Statement on Climate Change”, adopted in 2007. I am not affiliated with THI in any way. I have attended two of their conferences on global warming. THI was kind enough to give me “squatters’ rights” to have a location to get signatures. Was Heartland Institute supportive? Yes, of course, but they did not initiate the project or gather signatures for me before, during or after the ACS meeting.

    I personally invited C&EN Editor Rudy Baum to visit The Heartland Institute booth where I was gathering signatures. Mr. Baum stopped by on Tuesday morning and chatted with both myself and James Taylor of The Heartland Institute for perhaps 15-20 minutes. I was very careful to describe to Mr. Baum my project and the timetable I have set for it.

    As far as my experience with The Heartland Institute goes, I attended their conference in NYC in March 2009 and was very impressed with the presentations at the conference. In addition to the science, the social and moral dimensions of global warming and the proposed solutions were carefully considered. No one claimed to have “the answer”. The data presented and the many factors given consideration to explain the climate record were, to me, the way real science is done- no dogma, no sacred cows, but present and defend your theory with the data. And challenge the assumptions behind the data.

    As a Ph.D. chemist I have the luxury (usually!) of repeating experiments if they do not behave as expected. Repeating an experiment is a learning moment if you pay attention and listen to what the “failed” experiment is trying to tell you.

    No such luxury exists for the global warming debate, where interpretation of data, on physical samples obtained with significant effort and expense (think ice cores and isotope ratios) is the best we can do.

    Some additional points:

    In your post you highlight: Creation, Evolution, and now Climate Change? In a professional society of over 155,000 members one would expect a wide diversity of opinion on many issues. You have no basis to link those of us skeptical of global warming claims and leery of the proposed “solutions” of same with any other topic or group, be it “The Elks” or “Jews for Jesus”. We expect better from Yale.

    Dano, in the August 19 post, mentions “industry talking points”. My experience with industry- and I have been an ACS member for 33 years- is that it is not conservative so much as it is always in damage prevention/control mode. A large company like ExxonMobil, GE or Dow Chemical has much to lose or have at risk if they try to sail against the prevailing political winds. See the recent threats of investigation of health care companies by some members of Congress as an Exhibit A on that score. Simply put, most companies try to make the best of the current situation. This is really just human nature writ large.
    Howard Neufeld, in his post of August 18 writes: “chemists appear, more so than scientists in other disciplines, to be poorly informed on evolutionary issues, socially conservative, and quick to go after the messenger, rather than the message. Does this perhaps reflect their industry orientation, or does it say something about who decides to become a chemist?”
    My comments about a society of 155,000 members also apply here. A rather broad brush you paint with, Mr. Neufeld. Any sweeping generalizations you would like to share with the blog about, hmm, say, left handers?
    I don’t know how many chemists or ACS members Mr. Neufeld knows. The ACS is highly overrepresented by those employed in academia, an area generally not regarded as a bastion of conservatism. But whether in industry, academia or government, most of the ACS members I know are my respected (and often brilliant) colleagues and friends, warts and all.

    Thanks for reading,
    Pete

  9. Howard Neufeld says:

    Dear Pete – Thanks for your comments on both Bud Ward’s essay on Rudy Baum, and mine concerning the mindset of ACS members. Note that I qualified my statement by saying I did not have data to back up my opinion about the viewpoints of chemists with respect to either climate change or evolution. Perhaps such deniers are more prone to writing letters, thus giving them a disproportionate amount of publicity relative to the entire membership of ACS. Nonetheless, I never (and I emphasize the word “never”) see such comments on the Ecological Society of America listserve, which represents nearly 10,000 scientists, and of which I am a member. Certainly there are brilliant chemists out there – I’m married to one, and I work closely with others on issues of mutual concern (like global climate change and pollution!). With reference to global climate change, it would seem so obvious to chemists and physicists that for every action there must be a reaction. If we continue to put CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at rates and amounts that are unprecedented in recent time, there is going to be a “reaction” to that. And chemistry and physics gives us the tools to determine just what those reactions will be. Sure, the specifics might be debated, but change in the broadest sense, one way or the other, will happen. And with only one world and no spares, that could be catastrophic. Finally, as for left-handers, of which I am proud to be one, might I simply say that so was Babe Ruth, Boog Powell, C.P.E. Bach and Natalie Cole, as is President O’bama. I think without doubt, we are quite superior to the rest of humanity.
    Howie Neufeld, F & ES 1977