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NASA's Arsenicgate Vindicates Years Of AGW Skepticism

You’re unlikely to find any “mainstream science blogger” admitting it, but the backlash against NASA’s hyped-uparsenic life” press-conference-cum-discovery is not similar, rather pretty much identical (apart from a “tiny” detail I’ll talk about in a moment) to what many AGW skeptics have been saying about that other NASA’s hyped-up field, (catastrophic) climate change.

Take these words by Chris Rowan and tell me why they couldn’t be written as critique to the Hockey Stick or any other Climategate-related bodging or fudging:

[…] That’s what I consider to be real peer review. The pre-publication stuff is just a quality filter, a check that the paper is not obviously wrong – and an imperfect filter at that. The real test is what happens in the months and years after publication. Sometimes, after further research, the ideas in the paper do stand the test of time, and form a firm foundation for further research in that area. Sometimes it turns out to be wrong, but in interesting ways that increase our understanding of how that little bit of the world works. Sometimes it turns out to be simply wrong.

[…] the discussion is taking place in a much more public manner than is usually the case – something that NASA and the authors of the paper don’t seem to like very much. Well, tough cookies. You wanted the publicity. If you’re presenting your research at a NASA press conference in the wake of a firestorm of excitable media speculation, you definitely wanted the publicity. It’s a bit late to claim that you want discussion of your research limited to the peer-reviewed literature.

[…] I’ve actually written before about the real issue here: in this new media world of blogs and twitter streams, it’s much harder to control a story, because other scientists now have the tools to make their criticism just as public as your press releases.

[…] burying one’s head in the sand is counterproductive; you should robustly engage the criticisms, just as you would if it were a comment-and-reply in a journal, or a challenging question at a conference. The new reality is this: if you announce the research in a public venue, the debate should – and increasingly will – take place in that same public venue. The real challenge is how to have these debates – and report them – effectively.


So what is different? Why can’t Rowan make the link between the above and the obtuse behavior by so-called “leading climatologists” that to this day refuse to make their raw data public? Here’s why: because “climate change” is not a scientific debate, and so it is impervious to scientific skepticism. As von Storch (no climate skeptic, him) wrote more than five years ago:

The concern for the “good” and “just” case of avoiding further dangerous human interference with the climate system has created a peculiar self-censorship among many climate scientists. Judgments of solid scientific findings are often not made with respect to their immanent quality but on the basis of their alleged or real potential as a weapon by “sceptics” in a struggle for dominance in public and policy discourse.

0 replies on “NASA's Arsenicgate Vindicates Years Of AGW Skepticism”


Nice pick up – I too was ‘suckered’ by the arsenic headlines and found the real story via your links and other routes to be yet another tale of press release science. The key thing in this case (which also applies to AGW) is not just the science but the media. Chris Rowan’s point is ‘only’ related to science so misses the bigger picture.

There was another good one recently on “man-made sperm” (not a tautology) when the interview between the R4 guy and the press release scientist was delightfully overshadowed by the obvious disdain of another peer scientist.

Have you read Flat Earth News by Nick Davies? (I’ve raised it on harmless sky, inter alia, in the past). He outlines the double phenomenon of too many mediocre scientists (my interpretation, not specifically his assertion) chasing publicity (and hence funds/prestige), coupled with hard-pressed (and often scientifically illiterate) journos repeating the press release verbatim without questioning its validity or its assumptions, general applicability and so on.

If I ruled the world :-), any science article in the popular press would have to display a link to the original press release and some kind of Difference Index to show if any journalism (i.e. scrutiny) had actually taken place or if it was simply, as ND put it, “churnalism”.

Finally, and probably more closely linked to the climateresistance blog’s purpose, we should then recognise the third and fourth elements in this debacle – the activists and the politicians. It all makes for a very interesting muddle.

I don’t know how you find the time to keep going, but please do.

Hmmm. Perhaps because the science behind anthropogenic climate change is not based on the results of 1 paper, but 1000s? Perhaps because if Carl Zimmer phoned around acknowledged leaders of the field, as he did for the ‘arsenic-life’ paper, he would get quotes of broad support rather than skepticism? The lesson from this is quite the opposite from the one you’re trying to draw: in science, if you try to over-hype your findings, your peers are going to be lining up to cut you down to size. As l said, in one of the bits parts of my post that you curiously didn’t quote:

I’ve long maintained that it is only by showing people what a real scientific debate looks like, and how congenitally argumentative scientists are as a tribe, that the climate change/evolution/vaccine ‘debates’ will be shown up for the manipulative shams they are.

thank you Chris for stopping by – however, you should discuss this with von Storch, or Roger Pielke, Jr, or Mike Hulme.

You’ll find a comfortably AGW-belief environment with them all, yet they have no fear in indicating how terribly politicized climate science has become, with plenty of analysis on why over-hyped findings are not cut down to size. Even Revkin has been threatened with ostracism for not reporting the “right things” with the “right tone”.

You know, if we were talking arsenic, I’d point you in the direction of Andrew Montford’s Climategate report, or to the story of how McIntyre started his Climate Audit blog exactly to discuss climate articles in public, or to millions and millions of comments by AGW believers all repeating the same mantra “your critique is not valid because it’s not been peer-reviewed”. But then I have little faith in your ability to discuss the whole cimate thing in a cool manner, (you know, it’s all a “manipulative sham”) and most likely I’d just elicit a long tirade on how bad a person I am, how the science is settled, why questions about solar effects on the Earth’s climate are equivalent to disseminating doubts about the health effects of tobacco, the works.

Let’s try a minimum of consensus nevertheless. Climate scientists that refuse legitimate and lawful FOI requests, and/or refuse to publish raw data at an appropriate time, and/or forget to include their own caveats in reports for public consumptions, and/or dismiss questions when they are asked in a public forum, they all commit a huge mistake and undermine the validity of their peer-reviewed scientific findings. Do you agree with that?

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