Pity poor Tim Ball.
Despite having a short (eight years as a professor) and undistinguished (five peer-reviewed publications in his lifetime) career as a geography professor at the University of Winnipeg, Dr. Ball was able in the last 10 years to elevate himself to the level of self-appointed climate change expert. By working with energy industry lobby firms, he was able to insinuate himself as a would-be advisor to committees of the Canadian House of Commons and the the U.S. Senate. At one point, he presumed to send a letter directly to Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, introducing himself as “one of the first climatology PhDs in the world,” – a claim so far from accurate as to be laughable.
By his activism, his constant and so-often ill-informed criticism of scientists who were actually working in the field of climate change, Ball had, by 2006, established himself as Canada’s pre-eminent global warming denier. The Globe and Mail called him “Mr. Cool,” although the accompanying feature was anything but complimentary.
Still, at least he was getting attention.
When someone (University of Lethbridge Professor Dan Johnson) finally called Ball on his trumped up resume, the uber-denier launched a suit of defamation. Big mistake. The statements of defence included more devastating slander than Ball had ever previously endured. Lawyers for the Calgary Herald, for example, dismissed him as someone “viewed as a paid promoter of the agenda of the oil and gas industry, rather than as a practicing scientist.”
Ball abandoned his suit and went back to spreading disinformation in small prairie town service clubs. This blow to his credibility was such that he is no longer even a candidate for inclusion in the periodic lists that the climate denial industry creates to try to give the impression that there is still a legitimate scientific debate about climate change. For example, in a full page that the Cato Institute placed in five major American newspapers last week, Ball’s name was left off the list, in favour of “climate experts” like Dr. Susan Crockford, an archeoanthropologist who’s actual expertise in the evolutionary theory of the domestic dog. The folks at Cato might even be applauded for trransparency. Instead of using Ball, who has tried on many occasions to deny that his income derives directly or indirectly from oil and gas revenues, Cato included on his petition A Neil Hutton, the past president of the Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists. There is clearly no question who’s interests the American Petroleum Industry-sponsored Cato is trying to defend – and without the help of a damaged ally like Tim Ball.
So now Dr. Ball is left with a dwindling audience, writing his weekly column in the little-known libertarian website Canada Free Press. There, recently, he set upon doctors James Hansen and Andrew Weaver, two of the most respected climate scientists on the continent. Both of these men have published more peer-reviewed research in a single season than Ball wrote in his entire career. Both have gained the respect and admiration of their professional colleagues and both are prominent contributors to the Nobel quality work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Both are also seriously (and justifiably) concerned about government inaction in the face of a slimate change threat that grows more daunting by the day. Ball is fond of dismissing concern as “alarmism” – as if alerting your neighbors to danger is somehow a bad thing.
It’s true that pulling the fire alarm in a theatre is an act of mischief – WHEN THERE IS NO FIRE. But when providing an early warning could save lives, it is an act of heroism. That may be especially the case when standing up to raise the alarm can subject you to the kind of ill-informed character assassination that Ball directs at Hansen and Weaver.
The question, for Dr. Ball – an expert with no credentials and, increasingly, an advocate with no audience – is this: If he would have us criticize Hansen and Weaver for alarmism – for “frightening people” in a theatre that is about to be engulfed in flames – what accusation would he hurl at the usher who blocks the door and recommends people return to their seats and ignore the smoke already curling around their head.
I’d suggest “criminal negligence” at the least, especially if that “usher” truly had above-average scientific understanding and was particularly able to assess the risk.
As the bodies start piling up, others may prescribe more dramatic charge – perhaps some variation of “deadly irresponsibility.” In the first degree.