Climate Scientists vs Spice Girls & M*A*S*H Characters — Who Do You Trust?

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It is ironic that in the very week that Arctic ice levels reached a record low and warnings were made about the amount of methane that might be released from melting ice in the Antarctic, we should be reminded by the climate denialist community that we should reject mainstream climate science on the say-so of Ginger Spice and Hot Lips Houlihan.

You’ve got to admire them for persistence. I first wrote three years ago about the 31,000 “Oregon petition” – the document promoted as “proof” that there is no consensus about climate science. The document was thoroughly discredited then (as it had been previously), but here it is surfacing again.

It’s worth going back through its history, because not only is it an entertaining story, but it is also very informative about the background and the motivations of those who want to perpetuate such nonsense. And here it is back in the mainstream media and on talkback radio.

The Petition Project actually goes back to 1998, when it was first released by the founder and head of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, one Arthur Robinson. It claimed then to have 17,000 signatures from scientists rejecting the findings of the IPCC and the Kyoto Treaty. It was an online petition that invited “scientists” to register their support. Environmental groups had a ball – the petition was so poorly conceived that it was possible to insert the names of the entire cast of M*A*S*H and even Ginger Spice, Geri Halliwell, who actually had two entries, one as a Boston-based microbiologist.

“When you get thousands of signatures, there’s no way of filtering out a fake,” Robinson told Associated Press in 1998.

Ten years later, he was at it again, this time with an even bigger petition, with more than 30,000 signatures, of which 9,000 had PDHs in “relevant” sciences, he told Glenn Beck from Fox News in this interview. Robinson said these scientists all agreed that CO2 was good for the environment, and led to more plants and animals “…and it means American forests are growing faster,” he told a clearly impressed Beck.

Robinson is an interesting character. His institute is in fact a father and sons enterprise located in a barn on his property in Cave Junction, Oregon. Robinson’s main business is to sell “home schooling” kits that include 22 CDs that cover the entire syllabus of 12 years of schooling. Presumably they learn just enough to be able to understand the instructions of Robinson’s other best-selling video, “How to survive a nuclear war.” Apparently you need to dig at least eight foot down, but the ventilation can be tricky.

Robinson is typical of the climate denialists’ camp. He rails against a hoax conjured up by the UN in its desire for world government and global taxes. The local newspaper, The Register-Guard, says he is a signatory to the Scientific Dissent from Darwinism, which promotes Intelligent Design as an alternative to the theory of natural selection. He wants to disband  Social Security, Medicare and environmental regulations, as well as the public education system, because they all bring a “socialist intrusion on personal and corporate freedom.”

Robinson is also seeking election to Congress, for the second time. His opponent, the 12-term sitting Democrat Peter DeFazio, describes Robinson as a “pathological nut-job” from a “survivalist compound.” This time Robinson tried to rattle his opponent by getting his 24-year-old son Matthew to run against DeFazio in the Democratic primary. Not that his son is a Democrat. He says he own views are “very similar” to his father. At least we know the CDs are effective.

Peter Dykstra, from Mother Nature Network, summed it up this way in 2009:

“The Oregon Institute of Science & Medicine isn’t one of those ivory-tower think tanks. In fact, it’s run by a father-son team in a barn near Cave Junction, Oregon. Its oft-cited Petition Project is the Magna Carta of climate denial. Originally launched, and immediately discredited, in 1998, the OISM Petition has risen from the dead like the corpse in the bathtub at the end of a Stephen King flick.

“Originally a manifesto claiming the signatures of 17,000 “scientists” firmly opposed to the notion of global warming, Art and Noah Robinson’s project took in the names of just about anyone with a science degree — in at least a few cases, fictional people with science degrees: Drs. Pierce, Burns, Hunnicutt, Potter, Houlihan, and O’Reilly signed up to deny the existence of global warming. So did Dr. Geri Halliwell. If you’re keeping score, that’s most of the cast of theM*A*S*H and “Ginger Spice” from the Spice Girls.

“The National Academy of Sciences, learning that OISM had published the petition on a cheap knockoff of NAS letterhead, offered an unusually stern rebuke. None of which phased the Robinsons, who also market nuclear war survival kits from the OISM site. They published an updated list of 31,000 scientists, including veterinarians, engineers, and plastic surgeons whose work has apparently revealed the folly of global warming. Through it all, the OISM petition has been unskeptically embraced by talk shows, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Senator Inhofe, and countless blogs.”

Why should we bother with this? Well, here it is again, being cited, like yet another Stephen King sequel, in what purports to be serious piece of opinion published in mainstream media and quoted on talkback radio.

The modern petition appears to have filtered out the M*A*S*H cast, the Spice Girls, and Michael J. Fox. But pick any group of names – and some of them are pretty weird – and see if you come up with anything about the scientific degrees when you Google them. You may find a lot of vets and dentists.

But the petition project organisers are unrelenting. The OISM now proudly boasts a list of “experts on global warming” – about 100 actors and musicians, media types, Prince Charles and Richard Branson, most of whom it says had either dropped out of high school or college, or didn’t have a science degree. And then it provides a link to the 31,000 “experts” who disagree.

The blogger, Jo Nova, whose article lauding the petition appeared in The Australian last week, and on her website, asked in her article if the word of one climate scientist pushing the anthroprogenic climate change barrow was worth that of 420 “scientists” who disagreed with him or her. Perhaps we should ask whether the word of a climate scientist who has published a peer reviewed paper, and the academies of science that support them and thousands of others, is worth equal weight to the opinion of 420 vets, dentists and Spice Girls. The answer should be pretty obvious to most.

This post was originally published on Renew Economy. It has been reposted with permission.

Image Credit: Spice Girls via Featureflash /

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Giles Parkinson

is the founding editor of, an Australian-based website that provides news and analysis on cleantech, carbon, and climate issues. Giles is based in Sydney and is watching the (slow, but quickening) transformation of Australia's energy grid with great interest.

Giles Parkinson has 596 posts and counting. See all posts by Giles Parkinson