Why Did Nate Silver Hire Climate Change Skeptic To Cover Environment?

Roger Pielke Jr. Earns Howls of Protests on New Blog

Warming to Task: Nate Silver’s new FiveThirtyEight blog aims to use data to address thorny public issues. Is hiring a skeptic of climate change to cover the environment sending the right message?
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Warming to Task: Nate Silver’s new FiveThirtyEight blog aims to use data to address thorny public issues. Is hiring a skeptic of climate change to cover the environment sending the right message?

By J.J. Goldberg

Published March 27, 2014, issue of April 04, 2014.
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Nate Silver, the former New York Times data maven, has launched his own data-driven news site, and the reviews aren’t good. Liberals who once lionized him for his spot-on 2012 election predictions are now dismissing him as a chump.

What’s wrong? Well, a few pundits question his naïve use of statistics to tackle subjective questions of philosophy and values. But most of the attacks involve one controversial hiring decision: the contrarian environmental scholar Roger Pielke Jr. of the University of Colorado, named contributing writer on science and climate.

Trained as a political scientist, Pielke is an ornery, combative smart-aleck who claims to accept the facts of man-made climate change, but spends much of his time debunking new climate research, downplaying the threats and ridiculing scientists who disagree. He expends so much energy belittling climate experts — he recently accused White House science adviser John Holdren of “zombie science” — that he was listed in Foreign Policy’s 2010 Guide to Climate Skeptics. (The rest of his time seems to be spent crying foul when his victims hit back.)

Critics from columnist Paul Krugman to leading climatologist Michael Mann to liberal bloggers at ThinkProgress and Salon all claim Silver hurt his website’s credibility — fatally, some huffed — by hiring a “climate confusionist” like Pielke. The right, naturally, had a field day, calling it a case of left-wing censorship and ideological purism. “Greenies furious,” crowed The Daily Caller.

And while the mud flew back and forth, the ice continued to melt.

In fact, on March 16, the day before Silver launched his website, a major new study appeared in the journal Nature Climate Change, showing alarming, previously unknown melting on a glacier in frigid northeastern Greenland that had been thought stable. The Greenland ice sheet is the earth’s second largest after Antarctica.

The impact of melting ice in Greenland or Antarctica is different from the more familiar ice melt in the Arctic Ocean. Melting sea ice exposes dark water surface that then absorbs solar rays, acting as a heating element to the earth’s oceans. The warmer water changes polar wind patterns, pushing the cold polar vortex southward and generating extreme weather. What it doesn’t do is add water to the earth’s oceans.

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