Foreword by Anthony Watts:

I was sent this by email, apparently “Scientific American” doesn’t believe in fairness after publishing what is clearly a smear. Peer reviewed science welcomes rebuttal, smear review, not so much. Dr. Steve Koonin writes:

I attach a response that I submitted yesterday to Scientific American.  Not surprisingly, they declined to publish it.

Please do distribute my response freely among your contacts or websites.

Steve Koonin


Dr. Koonin’s response:

Scientific American has published a criticism of me and my recent book, Unsettled.  Most of that article’s 1,000 words are scurrilous ad hominem and guilt-by-association aspersions from the twelve co-authors.    Only three scientific criticisms are buried within their spluttering; here is my response to each them.

The first criticism concerns rising temperatures:

A recent Washington Post column by conservative contributor Marc Thiessen repeats several points Koonin makes. The first is citing the 2017 National Climate Assessment to downplay rising temperatures—but the report’s very first key finding on the topic says temperatures have risen, rapidly since 1979, and are the warmest in 1,500 years. 

In fact, Unsettled explicitly acknowledges a warming globe, but also the problems in comparing instrumental and proxy temperatures that weaken confidence in the “warmest in 1,500 years”.    The book’s Chapter 5 criticizes in detail the 2017 report’s misleading and inaccurate representation of a different temperature metric, US extreme temperatures.  To the surprise of many, the country’s warmest temperatures have not increased since 1960 and are no higher in recent years than they were in 1900.

The authors go on to offer:

The second is Thiessen quoting Koonin’s use of an outdated 2014 assessment on hurricanes to downplay climate concerns. But the newer 2017 report finds that human activity has “contributed to the observed upward trend in North Atlantic hurricane activity since the 1970s.” 

In fact, Unsettled’s Chapter 6 discusses the description of hurricanes in the 2014 report, in the 2017 report, and in more recent research papers through 2020, including an authoritative 2019 assessment by eleven hurricane experts.  None of those studies claim any detectable human influences on hurricanes.

Finally, we’re given:

A third point downplays sea level rise by portraying it as steady over time, cherry-picking reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In fact, the rate of sea-level rise has quadrupled since the industrial revolution, as climate scientists pointed out years ago when Koonin made this same argument. 

In no sense does Unsettled  portray sea level rise as “steady over time”.  Rather, the book’s Chapter 8 does quite the opposite, describing the full decadal variability as portrayed in the IPCC reports and subsequent research literature, but somehow omitted in the 2017 National Climate Assessment. The IPCC statement that rates of rise between 1920 and 1950 were likely similar to those of recent decades complicates attribution of recent trends.

It is telling that these three criticisms cite Thiessen’s column rather than what

I’ve written in Unsettled.  That they are readily countered suggests the authors haven’t read the book or, if they have, they aren’t acting in good faith.  That’s precisely the same unprofessional behavior found in the easily rebutted “fact check” of, again, a review of Unsettled, not the book itself.

To paraphrase a statement attributed to Einstein, “If I were wrong, it wouldn’t take a dozen scientists to disprove me – one would be sufficient.”  As I write in Unsettled, I welcome serious, informed discussion of any of the points I raise in the book.  Unfortunately, the article by Oreskes et al. falls well short of that standard.


Steven E. Koonin is the author of the bestselling book Unsettled: What climate science tells us, what it doesn’t, and why it matters.

You can listen to a podcast conducted by H. Sterling Burnett, managing editor of Environment & Climate News and a research fellow for environment and energy policy at The Heartland Institute.

In his new book “Unsettled,” Physicist Steven E. Koonin, Undersecretary for Science in the US Department of Energy under President Barack Obama, explains how climate research is being undermined and mispresented. Our current state of knowledge about the climate and human influences indicates there is no climate crisis. Hurricanes, tornados, heat waves, and droughts are not getting worse and deaths related to extreme weather events are declining. The public doesn’t know this because prominent research bodies, some individual scientists, the press, environmental lobbyists, and politicians are ignoring uncertainties and mispresenting what climate research shows in order to persuade the public that we face a climate crisis. Misrepresenting climate science undermines science itself and democracy.

Anthony Watts is a senior fellow for environment and climate at The Heartland Institute. Watts has been in the weather business both in front of, and behind the camera as an on-air television meteorologist since 1978, and currently does daily radio forecasts. He has created weather graphics presentation systems for television, specialized weather instrumentation, as well as co-authored peer-reviewed papers on climate issues. He operates the most viewed website in the world on climate, the award-winning website wattsupwiththat.com.

2 COMMENTS

  1. What is the correct temperature and how is that arrived? No one can answer that question. Second, show me a predictive thermodynamic model of the globe which describes the temperature versus altitude with the troposphere pause and ionosphere heating and pause. Then show me by increasing the trace gas in the atmosphere, CO2, by a step change of 100 ppm that the temperature profile gets altered after that model has been validated against the Maunder Minimum. All these so-called scientists and their assertions are garbage unless you have such a predictive model. If you wave a $100M grant funding in front of this pseudo-scientists they will produce whatever you wanted.

  2. Scientific American ceased to be a reliable source of scientific information over a decade ago. Like so much of the MSM, it has abandoned impartiality and instead become an advocate for popular causes.

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