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Why Roger Pielke, Jr.  is the Wrong Choice for FiveThirtyEight

New news venture's science writer ignores data on climate science

Editor’s Note: In addition to writing for 538, Roger Pielke, Jr. is also a one-time contributor to Earth Island Journal and has an article in our current print edition. We found Dr. Pielke a pleasure to work with and were pleased to have him in our magazine.

Roger Pielke, Jr. Photo by Tine Harden/Play the GameRoger Pielke, Jr.

There are consequences for being wrong — consistently. We are a forgiving society but even Americans can sense when someone passes from being well intended to habitually in the wrong.

That’s sadly where we are with climate contrarian Dr. Roger Pielke Jr., who has joined Nate Silver’s new high-profile news venture at ESPN, FiveThirtyEight.com . Ever since he correctly predicted all 50 states’ presidential choice in 2012, Silver’s reputation for accuracy has been legendary.

Pielke’s hire makes us question his judgment.

Yesterday, climate scientists criticized Pielke’s first piece published on FiveThirtyEight as “deeply misleading” for downplaying extreme weather concerns, putting Pielke on the defensive and drawing attention from national media outlets.

Pielke argued that extreme weather events are costing us more money to clean up, but that is not because climate change is making extreme weather more frequent or intense. It’s because we are getting richer. Pielke denies the link between climate pollution and drought, extreme downpours and intensifying hurricanes. He has for years.

Just about everyone of any reputation disagrees with him. Take Dr. Michael Mann, who has been fighting against phony science and climate deniers for years. Said Mann in Think Progress:

“Pielke’s piece is deeply misleading, confirming some of my worst fears that Nate Silver’s new venture may become yet another outlet for misinformation when it comes to the issue of human-caused climate change. Pielke uses a very misleading normalization procedure that likely serves to remove the very climate change-related damage signal that he claims to not be able to find.”

Silver launched the data-driven FiveThirtyEight website to “critique incautious uses of statistics when they arise elsewhere in news coverage.” But for years, Pielke has done just the opposite. Check out Joe Romm’s great work debunking Pielke over the years. You might also check out a paper from White House science advisor John Holdren who took the extraordinary step of publishing a six-page paper just to right the wrongs from Pielke, who has held that there is no connection between climate change and drought. The science, and Holdren, says otherwise.

We are all entitled to our own opinions, but not our own facts. Pielke obfuscates data and creates his own set of “facts” to back up his worldview. Silver should respond by calling for a higher standard of accuracy at FiveThirtyEight and firing Roger Pielke.

Correction: According to Pielke, he mentions the connection between climate change and drought on page 175 of his book, The Climate Fix.

Daniel Kessler
Daniel Kessler is communications director of Citizen Engagement Laboratory's Climate Lab.

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