Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise has been watching the climate world since 2009. What she sees isn't pretty.

Fake Nobel Laureate Steve Running

Like those sad souls who walk around with military medals they themselves didn’t earn on their chests, a forestry professor continues to bask in undeserved glory.

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In 1979, Steven Running completed a PhD in Forest Ecophysiology. He is now a forestry professor at the University of Montana – and an environmental activist.

In a 2007 essay titled 5 Stages of Climate Grief, Running grandiosely describes himself as “a climate scientist.” He declares that lifestyle changes are necessary to combat global warming and says that, while there’s no guarantee we’ll be successful at stopping this warming,

doing nothing given our present knowledge is unconscionable. How otherwise can we look into our grandchildren’s eyes?

If I were him, I’d be more concerned about losing my grandchildren’s respect for another reason entirely.

Running was one of 22 people who worked on one chapter (out of 44) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 report. When half of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Al Gore, the other half went to the IPCC.

It did not go to Running or any other IPCC personnel. You will find neither his name nor his photograph anywhere on the NobePrize.org official website. Moreover, a year ago the IPCC issued a formal statement making it clear that it is improper to describe anyone connected to the IPCC as a Peace Prize winner.

Yet, to this day, under the heading Awards, Honors on two versions of Running’s CV, this line appears:

Co-recipient, Nobel Peace Prize 2007

It doesn’t get more bald-faced than that. Like those sad souls who walk around with military medals they themselves didn’t earn on their chests, Running continues to bask in undeserved glory.

Sixteen days ago, he delivered a talk at a college. You can see the announcement for that event as it appeared on the website of the Helena, Montana Independent Record newspaper. Nobel Laureate Steve Running proclaims the headline.

Between the headline and the first paragraph of that announcement, the word “Nobel” is used three times. We are explicitly told that

In 2007, Dr. Running received a Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). [bold added; see this announcement in another venue here]

But that’s just the beginning. If you type “Steve Running Nobel” into Google, more than 4 million search results are returned. Near the top of the list is a 2011 Two-Minute Interview with Running which begins as follows:

Only one professor at the University of Montana has a Nobel Peace Prize hanging in his office: Steven W. Running, director of the intimidatingly named Numerical Terradynamic Simulation Group, part of the university’s Department of Ecosystem and Conservation Sciences. Running, a climate scientist who studies forest carbon, received the award for his work with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). [bold added]

Evidently Hillary Rosner, the journalist who conducted that interview, failed to look closely. The certificate hanging in Running’s office did not come from the Nobel committee. It was manufactured by the IPCC – and is signed by two IPCC officials. Here’s a photo of the certificate awarded to one of Running’s colleagues:

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The top half of this certificate is a reproduction of the Nobel diploma received by the IPCC. Please note that nowhere on this certificate does it say that the recipient is a Nobel laureate. It says he contributed to the effort that helped the IPCC win the Peace Prize.

Another result high on Google’s list is a  2012 YouTube video titled Steve Running, Nobel Peace Prize, Adventures of the Mind Achievement Mentoring Summit. Then there’s the cringy-worthy 2007 coverage in the Missoula Independent newspaper. It features a photograph of Running with climate activist James Hansen.

Titled A Nobel Cause, the piece describes Running as a “climate guru” and Hansen as an “oracle.” We’re told the IPCC’s Peace Prize makes Running “Missoula’s first Nobel laureate since UM professor Harold Urey received the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1934 for his discovery of heavy hydrogen.”

Running is asked how he feels about the prize and replies:

There was of course a fair bit of buzz that Al Gore might get it. We were really just rooting for Al Gore to get it. That’s why we were all completely stunned Friday when the news started coming up that Al Gore and the IPCC committee had won the prize.

It didn’t sink in for us as individual authors until around 9 a.m. when I got an e-mail from the IPCC head office in Geneva, Switzerland saying, and I quote, “This makes each of you a Nobel laureate.” And that’s when I started going, “Whoa. Wait a minute here.” [backup link here]

A UK judge may have ruled that Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth film is riddled with scientific errors, but “climate scientist” Running was rooting for Gore nonetheless. IPCC chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, who sent Running the e-mail referred to above, may have had no authority to transform individual members of the IPCC’s team into full-fledged Nobel laureates – but Running is unconcerned about pesky details.

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And let us not make the mistake of imagining that small, regional newspapers are the only ones to have taken part in this shameless bamboozling of the public. As I’ve observed elsewhere,

In January 2008, the New York Times ran a story which did, in fact, acknowledge that ecologist Steven Running‘s IPCC-related Nobel is for the Peace Prize [as opposed to being a science Nobel]. But this occurred only after the story had described him as a “Nobel laureate climate scientist” and again as a “Nobel laureate climate researcher.” Moreover, two quotes in this news story suggest that some members of the public may well hear the word “Nobel” and not pay close attention to the details. One person says: “He’s a Nobel scientist, highly distinguished…” while someone else declares: “We were disappointed the school board would turn down an opportunity for a Nobel laureate to speak.”

From small town Montana to the Big Apple, media outlets have repeatedly misled us about Steven Running’s credentials. When can we expect to see accurate and responsible journalism?

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Running’s CV, posted on the University of Montana website, is backed up here

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