Big Voice in Climate Debate Silenced

The late Stephen Schneider was one of the most influential and eloquent advocates for human-caused climate change.
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The late Stephen Schneider was one of the most influential and eloquent advocates for human-caused climate change.

Stephen Schneider, a professor at Stanford and the founder and editor of the journal Climatic Change, died early this morning of an apparent heart attack. He was 65.

Schneider likely did more than any American scientist other than James Hansen to bring climate change, and the risks associated with it, into the public consciousness (and that of Miller-McCune's readers. "Schneider ... was a vocal advocate for confronting man-made global warming," noted the Columbia Journalism Review. "He earned the respect of many journalists for his honest and evenhanded explanations of the underlying science."

(Ed. — His Mediarology was also a useful and cogent tool for teaching journalists and those who have no choice but to deal with journalists about the challenging terrain of reporting accurately. I've cribbed from it repeatedly over the years.)

I once interviewed Schneider over the telephone for an article about technological solutions to climate change. He was gracious and patient despite the fact that I told his secretary I only wanted five minutes of his time when what I really wanted — and got — was 20. He ended our conversation by noting that when it comes to climate change, "There is no silver bullet, only rusty buckshot."

Schneider's passing comes only a short time after an important (if imperfect) study he co-authored, titled "Expert Credibility in Climate Science," was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study reviewed the work of nearly 1,400 prominent climate researchers and found that "97-98 percent of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field" agreed with the tenets outlined by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. By contrast, Schneider and his co-authors wrote, the "relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of [anthropogenic climate change] are substantially below that of the convinced researchers."

This finding, Schneider and his co-authored asserted, has a direct and very important bearing on the current state of climate reporting in the American media. "Despite media tendencies to present both sides in [climate] debates, which can contribute to continued public misunderstanding regarding [anthropogenic climate change], not all climate researchers are equal in scientific credibility and expertise in the climate system." They went on to argue that this expertise gap should play a much more prominent role in the way that editors and journalists decide who to interview when writing articles about climate change.

Schneider obituaries can be found here: Time, The New York Times, Climate Progress and Stanford websites, and, in a particularly fine note posted on, here.