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The Inquisition of Climate Science Hardcover – August 30, 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; F First Edition edition (August 30, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231157185
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231157186
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #944,743 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"The most comprehensive, illuminating and searing account yet of the murky world of climate change denial and the charlatans who populate it." -- Irish Times

"Powell consistently brings the sharp insight of a knowledgeable insider melded with the skepticism of a critical outsider to the most important issues in science. In his latest book--his best yet--he shows us the path to understanding climate change."--Peter D. Ward , The University of Washington

"James Lawrence Powell's must-read book is a welcome addition to the growing literature debunking fossil fuel-funded, anti-science disinformation. As Powell makes clear, it is time for scientists to stand up and be counted."--Joseph Romm, editor of Climate Progress and senior fellow at American Progress

This book is a winner, written in an easy, logical style with thorough and fascinating discussions of major deniers.

(Orrin Pilkey, Duke University, coauthor of The Rising Sea 7/9/2011)

With the evidence for global warming so strong, why, Powell asks, does half the American public doubt it? His answer is a history of the campaign of denial, the most comprehensive and up-to-date history available. It is well written and well worth reading: this is the most important issue facing our generation.

(Spencer Weart, author of The Discovery of Global Warming )

This courageous and well-researched book exposes how ideologues and money combined to attack sound climate science.

(Richard Somerville, University of California, San Diego, author of The Forgiving Air: Understanding Environmental Change, second edition )

… this is a highly authoritative and accessible book that should be read by everyone who has any doubts about the reality of climate change.

(Irish Times )

About the Author

James Lawrence Powell received his Ph.D. in Geochemistry from MIT and is presently director of the National Physical Science Consortium. He has taught at Oberlin College and has served as its acting president. He has also served as president of Franklin and Marshall College, Reed College, the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. Both presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush appointed Powell to the National Science Board. Asteroid 1987 SH7 is named for him.

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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

58 of 75 people found the following review helpful By E. N. Anderson VINE VOICE on August 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an excellent book on the politics of climate change denial. It is now settled beyond doubt that the world is warming and that human release of carbons has a lot to do with it. (As an anthropologist working with climate change data for a lifetime, I am quite capable of evaluating the evidence on all sides, and have followed it for decades; I have no political axe to grind and was in fact a skeptic until the evidence was overwhelming.) There are now very few scientifically competent deniers except people funded by energy companies and a few long-retired, long-out-of-touch scientists.
Powell does a wonderful job with the person politics, but a few points need to be amplified. First, he mentions, but rather downplays, the fact that big oil--specifically, ExxonMobil, the Koch brothers, and a couple of smaller firms--are running the show. They provide essentially all the money and most of the verbiage. Worldwide, just to show that it isn't "capitalism" or "the right wing" here, the Chinese government and their huge energy-extracting, energy-wasting economic machine is the other big source of denial and political opposition to change. Second, a very scary phenomenon is the way that political extremists (and NOT so much the big oil companies in this case) have linked climate change denial with the longer-standing anti-science agendas in the United States: anti-evolution and racism. This is creating a witch's-brew environment in which people can seriously talk about shutting down the National Science Foundation, the US Dept of Education, and even public education in general. At least the Chinese are smarter than that; they know that the competition for global power in the 21st century will be won by the best educated, not the most gullible.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By SW on May 12, 2013
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Openly polemical and occasionally repetitive, but full of useful description of the cynicism and financial secretiveness of organizations that oppose paying attention to climate change. He makes the obvious link to tactics used by the tobacco industry a few decades ago. He also summarizes the science that suggests human effects on the environment and the utter lack of science from those who claim it is not the result of fossil fuels.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Al B. Real on January 13, 2013
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Excellent exposé of Climate Change denialist mythology. In this impressive, well-researched study, Powell chronicles the history of the science and the attack on it by vested interests (i.e., namely, the fossil fuel industry) with the aid of subservient politicians and, often, media dupes.

He examines the tactics--mainly knee-jerk denialism and repetition ad nauseam of long-discredited arguments that only aid in obfuscation which engenders doubt. And at the same time, they spew a relentless barrage of ad hominem attacks. Then he identifies the perps and the reasons for their success in swaying (read: misleading) public policy (so far!)

The result of their machinations is the tragedy that an issue that literally determines the fate of our hospitable Earth is relegated to time-wasting, mindless (and seemingly endless) political debate.

However, in this book Powell gives us more than ample ammunition with which to fight back. There is a wealth of information presented in an easy-to-read style with plenty of references to back up every point. I knew the basics of this issue but nowhere nearly enough of the details; this book helps a lot to fill in the gaps.

One thing I was surprised to learn is that among the reputable scientists working in climatology is a fairly even mix along the political spectrum. I would assume that those Republican members have been mostly silent due to not wanting to jeopardize their careers for not towing the party line.

That's why a book like this is so important; if enough fair-minded, free-thinking people can be exposed to the truth, we can overcome the merchants of doubt and, hopefully, get positive movement towards mitigating ('adapting' is the denialist buzz-word when all else fails since accountability is completely off of the table) the crisis before it's too late.


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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By P. M. Rego on March 24, 2013
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The majority of people on earth would not claim they are qualified to carry out neurosurgery. It therefore beggars belief that completely unqualified people, or those with qualifications in OTHER than CLIMATE SCIENCE think that they should be taken seriously when they deny the reality of climate change and the hard and honest work of specialists in the field.

This is a well written, rational and well researched book. It shows clearly and with evidence, the means by which deniers muddy the waters through plain dishonesty (e.g. cherry-picking and thus misrepresenting the work of others, payment for opinions), ideology, or the inability to understand the value of the scientific method. Anyone who wishes to understand honestly the reasons behind the noise created by deniers should read this book.
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34 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Kåre Fog on September 22, 2011
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The title `The inqusition of climate science' is justified. Climate science today is exposed to attacks led by people who are just as blinded by ideology as were the members of the Spanish Inquisition . It is obvious that large groups of people simply are immune to common sense, reason and science, and they grasp any arguments, however ill founded, to preserve their prejudices. Powell's book is one long defence of climate science against such deniers. I hope very much that it will have an effect on such persons, but I fear that it will not. Those who want to believe that global warming does not happen, or is not dangerous, will probably not be convinced by this book, nor by any other kind of evidence for that matter.
So who could use this book? I guess that it can be useful for many persons who want to defend science against attacks; for those persons, the book is a thorough overview over a wide range of attacks on science, who attacked, what arguments did they use, and how should these arguments be countered.
Powell has certainly put a considerable effort into producing this text. He goes through many details and does not avoid difficult issues. All claims are backed up by references, although many references are only to newspaper articles which may be hard to track.
The book deals mainly with the situation in the USA. However, the opposition against climate science in USA is so strong and pervasive and has so much influence in the rest of the world that this is of great interest also to people outside of the USA.
The book's 190 pages are easy to read. However, the relatively short account - and focus on readability - means that in some cases the text is not as precise and thorough as some readers might want.
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