Tag Archives: Skepticism

A Sea-Surface Miracle!

Overlong “On the adjustments to the HadSST3 data set” blog post just out (after a few technical glitches) at Judith Curry’s comes to a conclusion that aounds like yet another climate-related miracle

HadSST3 selectively removes the majority of the long term variations from the pre-1960 part of the record. ie. it removes the majority of the climate variation…

…that cannot be attributed to anthropogenic global warming!

How unexpected!

Two Matters Of Logic (And Timewasting Avoidance)

A couple of timewasting avoidance schemes when dealing with anti-skeptic Defenders of the Faith in Science:

(1) The Congealed Minds

Some people pop up in skeptic blogs commenting in a way similar to swashbuckling (or marauding), making statements such as “I believe the scientists doing the research are a much better judge of that than you are“.

That’s a very good sign that we’re dealing with people who:

  • Worship mainstream scientific literature
  • Are willing mouthpieces of somebody else
  • Routinely misrepresent science as an organically growing process where past interpretations are cast in stone
  • Act like those philosophers who would reply to Galileo continuously quoting Aristotle and the Aristotelians, rather than accept to reason by themselves

The only question to ask them is: Is there anything anybody could ever say, show, write, demonstrate, ask or explain in a blog or comment to a blog, that will make you change your mind?

The answer will of course be “No”. Therefore there is no point debating with them.

(2) The Deferrers

Another common anti-skeptic tactic is to invoke some Higher Authority, eg: “I won’t presume to substitute my non-professional judgment for that of someone who’s dedicated his career to a pursuit of unbiased scientific knowledge, just as I wouldn’t substitute my judgment for that of an oncologist or a neurologist treating myself or someone close to me“.

That’s a completely meaningless statement, because it is supremely illogical. If a person defers judgment to somebody else, obviously what that person writes has no value at all: we should always be looking for the opinion of “somebody else”. Anybody arguing “don’t listen to me, listen to somebody else” is a prisoner of twisted logic, as the first part of that sentence negates the second one. Therefore there is no point debating with them.

Threatener In Chief

There are 2,830 hits for @BBCRBlack on the BBC News site. Of them, 785 include the words “threat” or “threaten”.

That’s 28%.

Environment reporting is a subset of professionalised scare.

THIS IS The #Climate Question

Everything else, is a corollary….

From Bishop Hill’s “Nobel laureate on temperatures” (Feb 2012):

The question is not whether temperatures have risen or whether mankind has affected the climate. Temperatures have always risen and fallen and mankind has always affected the climate. The question is whether we have a problem on our hands. The poor performance of the climate models suggests that the problem is much less than we have been led to believe.

Perspective Amiss At @AmSciMag

Summary of the latest email edition of “Science In The News Weekly“, “a digest of science news stories appearing in the mainstream media. It is delivered every Monday afternoon (or Tuesday afternoon in the case of a Monday holiday) as part of Sigma Xi’s public understanding of science program area, in conjunction with American Scientist magazine

Science-y news

Another science-y news

Yet another science-y news

World to end(*)

More science-y news

More more science-y news

In particular the (*) bit is of the form:

Scientists say that if carbon dioxide emissions don’t begin to decline soon, the complex fabric of marine ecosystems will begin fraying–and eventually unravel completely.

Evidently reason takes a momentary leave of absence at American Scientist like in many other places, whenever carbon dioxide is mentioned.

BTW the link is to the study that used naturally-occurring CO2 seeps to try to figure out what might happen in 2100, an impressive collection of “might’s” if you ask me.

A Crickey Mystery About #Gleickgate

On Feb 20 Crikey.com came out with an interesting announcement:

Frozen version

Crikey understands The New York Times will tomorrow reveal the identity of Heartland’s “Anonymous Donor”, an individual who has donated $13.7 million to the Heartland Institute since 2007 and at times has provided 60% of the institute’s funding.

The page says (in the code) it’s been published 2012-02-20T13:11:12+1100

Now as we know, the NYT has published nothing of the sort…actually, Gleick confessed sometimes around midnight GMT between Feb 20 and Feb 21, a little less than 24 hours later.

I wonder if this missed announcement has anything to do with Gleick being forced to reveal himself as the Gleickgate perp. BTW make sure you don’t miss out this thread at Climate Audit.

Missing Heat 3 – Implications For Policymaking

Trenberth’s “missing heat” should be a problem of physics, only it’s handled by amateur homeo-climate-paths.

Actually, it’s much more than a problem of physics. It has vast policy implications.

If models are not useful in a decadal timescale, such as they can predict a strong warming for a period of minimal or even no warning, then what use is there for models? What government (apart from North Korea…) would make it difficult for people to heat up their homes in the next decade with the explanation that is going to be warm in 2070 anyway?

People do not average-out their lives across decades or centuries: each and every one of us have to go through each and every day first.

If I freeze to death today at -10C, I will not enjoy the warmth of July at +30C even if the average is +10C, perfectly compatible with human life. The same can be said of plants and animals. If I plant an olive tree in my London garden, it will die of cold in February even if the yearly average is in theory just enough to make olive trees survive in the open. If a nasty mosquito species migrates from warmer places during an August heatwave, still if that species cannot survive the following winter it will not be around until next migration opportunity during a future heatwave.

A purely statistical, multi-year approach to modelling the climate is in theory useless for policymaking (similar considerations could be made for non-regional projections, but that is too long a story here – read “How Space-Time Digested AGW” if interested). And if we end up with 15 years of incorrect projections without even a volcano for an excuse, then whatever physical explanation there is, policymakers would be much wiser in keeping climate scientists at arm’s length.

Lights Off Upstairs At Skeptical Science

That’s the only explanation for SkS to tweet about “Doonesbury cartoon on climate deniers http://bit.ly/xNSUsx“.

Here’s the strip:

Obviously, John Cook and friends are completely unaware of a few things about their own site:

  • It’s built to reach out to climate newbies
  • It’s where believers in (catastrophic) anthropogenic climate change go in desperate search of “evidence” to “support their position”
  • It’s the one site sporting the belief “everyone is entitled” to read a single set of “facts” as determined by John Cook and friends
  • It sports thousands of “facts”

It all looks like a heroic case of irony failure. Unless Doonesbury is so clever as to subtly indicate where the denial of science actually is…at Skeptical Science, of course.

The Unknown Skeptic – An Essay On "Poles Apart" – 7of7 – Conclusions

THE UNKNOWN SKEPTIC – Journalism, awaiting to be freed
AN ESSAY ON JAMES PAINTER’S “Poles Apart

If I choose a side, It won’t take me for a ride – paraphrasing Peter Gabriel, 1975

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Quasi-Discovery Of the Natures of Skepticism
  3. Limitations
  4. Silent Sorrows In Dubious Sources
  5. In The Cage
  6. The Unconnected Dots
  7. Conclusions

7- Conclusions

If everybody reported climate change (skepticism) the way Mr Painter and co-authors did in “Poles Apart: The International Reporting of Climate skepticism“, most statistics about skeptical voices in the media (possibly, elsewhere) would be zero. Indeed, they do hover near zero, apart, that is, from the GWPF, both in the media and in “Poles Apart”. QED. “Poles Apart” surely risks being remembered as just another example of what it was meant to report, the attitude of the media to “skeptical voices”.

This is why “Poles Apart” ends up a frustrating read, in spite of the effort made to put it together. Potentially huge stories are missed by experienced and passionate journalists. How can that be possible? This series of blog posts has illustrated one explanation, the reliance on unreliable sources combined by a self-imposed conviction that the world could be understood from a single point of view. It’s like having to follow to a whole season of football from the ManU TV channel, when Chelsea FC wins the Premiership: you know the commentators are professionals and speak with knowledge and expertise, yet you also know there is a lot of the actual story they are going to miss.

There is simply no way certain ideas will be uttered, true and real as they might be. “We wuz robbed” will always take precedence over “they were robbed”: analogously “skeptics are funded by right-wingers and Big Oil” will be taken as granted whilst “let’s look at the arguments instead of labelling people” is perhaps briefly pondered, only to be quickly hidden away. In both cases, extremely little space will be provided to the opponents’ remarks. True Believers won’t find anything controversial for their eyes to read, in “Poles Apart”.

This is what happens when only one channel is listened to: mental closure, oversimplification, time wasted in caricaturing the ‘enemy’, ultimately ‘reductio ad certamen’, i.e. the transformation of science (and journalism) into team sports.

To talk about skepticism to a warmist audience becomes like explaining Nostradamus followers they should really start reading something else. Or opining about foreign policy to some of the current Republican presidential hopefuls in the USA. Ironically, Dr Nadin might have been even especially right when she told the RISJ:

“Journalists and other key communicators often lack the knowledge base, skills and online and offline resources to cut thought the confusion and accurately report on the complex science of climate change and this can be especially true in developing countries.”

Poles Apart” is close to the solution and yet stubbornly and half-blindly refuses to consider it. Still, the cage’s locks can be broken. Dear Mr Painter! Start from Geoffrey Lean’s words!

(p115) All but the extremists on either side agree that the planet is warming that humanity is at least partly responsible – and that we don’t know how big its contribution is, or what the effects will be

Expand the report. Include skeptics, their propositions, their first-hand quotes, especially what argument they make for their particular brand of skepticism. Include the online activity, and analyse the full spectrum of ideas in much detail. Don’t be afraid to admit there is scientific and policy variety among the non-skeptic, and by all means never ever conflate people away, to debate regions resembling the areas marked “Hic Sunt Leones” in ancient maps, literally “Here there are lions” with the meaning of “This is the deadly dangerous unknown region to avoid at all cost”.

Mr Painter, and anybody else who says they care about AGW: it’s time you realise the future is in opening up the debate. At the risk of sounding like an unreformed Libertarian: let the fact, and the truth free. They’re struggling within.

(end)

The Unknown Skeptic – An Essay On "Poles Apart" – 6of7 – The Unconnected Dots

THE UNKNOWN SKEPTIC – Journalism, awaiting to be freed
AN ESSAY ON JAMES PAINTER’S “Poles Apart

If I choose a side, It won’t take me for a ride – paraphrasing Peter Gabriel, 1975

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Quasi-Discovery Of the Natures of Skepticism
  3. Limitations
  4. Silent Sorrows In Dubious Sources
  5. In The Cage
  6. The Unconnected Dots
  7. Conclusions

6- The Unconnected Dots

If you’ve read so far you’re unlikely to be Mr Painter. Or a ‘warmist’. Or a ‘believer’ in (catastrophic) climate change. By the way, according to “Poles Apart: The International Reporting of Climate skepticism” I am a ‘skeptic’ (together with 99% of humanity, as we have seen). I qualify under two categories:

“global temperatures are warming but a) the anthropogenic contribution (burning fossil fuels) to global warming or climate change is over-stated […] compared to other factors like natural variations or sun spots”

and

“it is not known with enough certainty what the impacts will be” and “urgent action by governments and/or substantial government spending (on all or some aspects of mitigation or adaptation) to counter AGW is not necessary”.

Rather, I think that urgent action on adaptation to current climate conditions is sorely needed. And no, I don’t think there is any conspiracy at work on the part of evil warmists. Never mind: as a skeptic, according to many people I shouldn’t be allowed to express my opinions. The mere existence of this very series of blog posts puts me on par with mass murderers and (according to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, apparently) apartheid supporters. Is that too strong a concept? “No Pressure” videos of exploding children aside, I am the victim of an ongoing hate/cyber-bullying campaign by an Italian journalist writing for a national newspaper. Go figure.

Skeptics hardened by years of internet abuse will surely be excused if they find “Poles Apart” as suspicious sounding. Is there a “message” to send therein, as in much climate-change spirit-uplifting literature? From the press release, republished by several internet outlets:

James Painter […] said: ‘There are politicians in the UK and the US who espouse some variation of climate skepticism. Both countries also have organisations for ‘climate change skeptics’ that provide a skeptical voice for the media, particularly in those media outlets that are more receptive to this message. This is why we see more skeptical coverage in the Anglo-Saxon countries than we do in the other countries in the study where one or more of those factors appear to be absent.’

Organisations for skeptics, uh? A SUV Enthusiasts Club, perhaps? Let’s check what Richard Black got out of “Poles Apart:

Poles Apart doesn’t nail the issue completely, but its broad conclusion may be familiar to many: “The weight of this study would suggest that, out of this wide range of factors, the presence of politicians espousing some variation of climate skepticism, the existence of organised interests that feed skeptical coverage, and partisan media receptive to this message, all play a particularly significant role in explaining the greater prevalence of skeptical voices in the print media of the USA and the UK.”

Espousing politicians, organised interests ‘feeding’ the skeptics, partisan media, USA and UK mostly. What would that mean, actually? As we have seen much is made by Mr Painter of Pat Michaels’ connections to the oil industry. Words aren’t spared to describe what might be funding some forms of climate skepticism. Then there is the mention of Lord Lawson and Lord Monckton.

Is it too much of a stretch then to interpret “Poles Apart” as trying to prove that the vast majority of climate change skepticism is a “crazy British toffs and American Republicans on the pay of Big Oil” thing?

That wouldn’t be journalism. Or would it? It depends.

What is journalism, at a time when “media ethics” is something broadcast live on a daily basis for the Leveson Inquiry “into the culture, practice and ethics of the press”? Is it about informing the public, and/or educating it? Is it about entertainment, eliciting readers to read by constantly diverting their attention? Or is journalism a form of activism, a way to push for the truth, perhaps a truth? This is what “Poles Apart”’s journalism-from-the-cage mostly risks looking like. And yet it wouldn’t have been too far to break the cage down. Mr Painter could have made up his mind about who is a skeptic and who isn’t, therefore abhorring any conflation. Take the point about the necessity of “urgent action by governments and/or substantial government spending (on all or some aspects of mitigation or adaptation) to counter AGW”.

That is a point of policy, not just of science. What is the meaning of “substantial”? How many years have to pass before something is not “urgent”? And who would ever believe that all non-skeptics agree on exactly what action is needed? Or even if adaptation, getting ready to survive/resist climate events, should be more or less important than mitigation, cutting greenhouse gas emissions in order to lower the frequency of occurrence and/or strength of those climate events? Ms Nadin made it clear, during the launch event for “Poles Apart”, that there is a Chinese debate on adaptation. Are the people involved therein really to be categorised as skeptics?

As Mr Revkin said during the event, policy debates are legitimate. To remotely suggest otherwise, marking for example the GWPF as some kind of unquotable organisation on its way to ruin the planet because branded by the sin of libertarianism, is conspiratorial, therefore seldom serious. In fact, it is not difficult to find an alternative, non-conspiratorial, history-grounded explanation of the report’s results than “espousing politicians, organised interests ‘feeding’ the skeptics, and partisan media”. Consider the following:

  • For the UK and USA: at the launch event, debate chairman John Lloyd suggested at some point, that in the UK (and USA) there is a societal penchant for debate. Unfortunately, there is also the recently-established press tradition so nicely described by Nick Davies in “Flat Earth News”, i.e. the massive regurgitation of “wire copy and/or PR material”.
  • In Brazil: it might all be down to reporters too enamoured of scientific papers to question anything in them, and to explicit or implicit lobbying by those who would benefit from climate change mitigation policies:

(p66) “US media academic Myanna Lahsen who lives in Brazil says that ‘climate skepticism is hardly existent in the Brazilian media […]’. Another factor is that much of the coverage of science in the Brazilian media is driven by scientific papers appearing in Brazilian and international journals, where there is little space afforded to skeptical arguments”

(p69) “…sectors [of Brazil’s business elite] stand to gain from the continued pursuit of ambitious plans to further biofuel production, where Brazil is second only to the USA in volume of output”

  • Regarding China: Ms Nadin told the event’s audience something along the lines of the Chinese government having a strong position about AGW, a topic that is (therefore?) not politically contentious. But this may results in self-censorship and reporting following the party line, as per two examples from the report:

(p71) “skeptical discourses in China make a clear distinction between certain scientific findings, which they may question, and domestic policy statements, which they would not”

(p72) “Academic and other studies suggest that the volume of coverage of climate change increased substantially after the 2007 IPCC reports, often with official encouragement”

  • Regarding France: following Mr Sciama, one might be able to explain fully and in purely non-scientific terms the local embracing of mainstream climate change science, and the almost complete absence of skeptical voices from the media. From the report:

(p79) “France has a rationalist, engineer culture and people who have gone to engineer schools often end up in politics or influential positions. This entire social class of powerful engineer has links with the nuclear lobby. I would also say there is a tradition of respecting the science and not challenging the experts which is quite strong in France. This is probably why climate change was accepted very early”

At the event, Mr Sciama suggested the French revolution of 1789 as an additional factor, replacing aristocracy with “meritocracy” (perhaps a better word would be “technocracy”).

  • In India: according to “Poles Apart”, the media spectrum is actively occupied by organised believers in catastrophic AGW, literally pushing skeptics out of the way:

(p81) There have been two dominant narratives in the Indian media coverage of climate change…the dominance […] leaves scant room for climate skepticism

(p81) Part of the reason why [skeptical Indian] voices have not been heard much is the high profile of prominent individuals like Dr Pachauri and non-governmental organisations (such as the Center for Science and Environment, Greenpeace India, WWF India, or the Energy Research Institute). They have been vocal about the risks and impacts of man-made climate change and seem to have wielded a significant influence on climate reporting. They often enjoy close relationships with Indian environment reporters.

(p83) the voice of the climate change ‘believers’ is so strong that [Nitin Sethi, Special Correspondent for the Times of India] is wary of civil society and the 500 local and internationally affiliated NGOs he says there are in India which are pushing the government to do more on climate change.

In summary: in the UK/USA, prevalence of believers over skeptics might as well mean warmists are monopolising the press releases manipulating the media into shutting off all skeptics, whose voices are still heard (however faintly) mainly because of a long-standing freedom to report ‘both sides’.

In Brazil, nobody questions mainstream science. In China, skeptics will appear in newspapers as soon as the Communist Party will say they ought to appear. In France, the field is wholly occupied by technocrats, ie mindless (and anti-historical) followers of the latest mainstream science (it’s not by chance that Jules Romain, a French, wrote in 1923 the play “Dr Knock or The Triumph of Medicine”, where a whole village falls under the spell of a new local doctor, convincing them that to feel well is only the ignorant sensation of a sick person).

In India, the noise from climate change activists make skeptical idea inaudible. Is it possible to connect those dots now? Anybody else seeing a pattern, (relative) freedom to report on skepticism on one side, but forceful pushing on the journalists to avoid skeptics on the other? Could it be that Mr Painter and his fellow researchers have been measuring not the power of lobbies or partisan media, but (in the tiny amounts of skeptical voices allowed in print) flickering residual freedom of thought and speech, recalcitrance against being led by the nose by the latest bunch of experts, and willingness on the part of journalists to investigate rather than supinely doing as told?

If that were shown true, it would be truly ironic for the RISJ; they might have reported with “Poles Apart” a great story about journalism without even noticing. And it wouldn’t be the only story missed by Mr Painter and co-authors. Let’s go back to that one-of-two-skeptical-quote, by Dr Peiser of the GWPF:

(p14) “For far too long, scientific organisations and the mainstream media did not give appropriate space to authoritative critics of inflated climate alarm.”

Compare it to this extract from the Executive Summary:

(p4) “The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) has been particularly successful in getting its views reported across most of the 10 UK newspapers. The two most quoted skeptics by far in the [Nov 2009-Feb 2010 Copenhagen/Climategate] period were Lord Lawson and Benny Peiser (more than 80 times between them) both from the GWPF”

Seems the GWPF has achieved the considerable success of getting at least a tiny part of its views reported by “Poles Apart” too! And that’s not all: the GWPF was founded a few months before the Copenhagen/Climategate period, so the fact that its most prominent representatives were “the two most quoted skeptic” by year’s end is a sign of remarkably speedy success. Alas (but not surprisingly), Mr Painter and co-authors seem to have missed that. Commenting on “Poles Apart”, Richard Black didn’t:

“Among other things, it shows the success that the the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) has had in inserting itself into national discourse since its establishment in 2009 – a success noted this week by the conservativehome blog, which describes it as ‘one of the most important think-tanks in Britain today’”

Ironically, the GWPF found himself praised at the “Poles Apart” launch event, temporarily stealing the show thanks to two non-skeptic.

Mr Revkin agreed with Dr Peiser (who was in the attendance) about the importance of open and frank policy discussions, unencumbered by accusations of denial. According to Mr Revkin, a large problem in the US debate has been leftist (“progressive”?) politicians doing a disservice to a complex situation. He thinks that they have forced anthropogenic global warming into a “single sentence” containing both the issue (climate change) and the solution (emission reduction), thereby attempting to shut off everybody disagreeing on policy just like everybody disagreeing on science. That is of course absurd, non-democratic and unsustainable. As we have seen, even “Poles Apart” suffers a lot from such a conflation.

More: Dr Peiser received some kind of praise from self-nominated GWPF arch-enemy Bob Ward of the Grantham Research Institute:

“I congratulated Benny on his brilliant propaganda campaign, greatly helped by ideological op-ed desks.”

In fact, Dr Peiser thanked back as few people have done more than Mr Ward to provide the GWPF with free publicity at every possible occasion .

(continues)

The Unknown Skeptic – An Essay On "Poles Apart" – 5of7 – In The Cage

THE UNKNOWN SKEPTIC – Journalism, awaiting to be freed
AN ESSAY ON JAMES PAINTER’S “Poles Apart

If I choose a side, It won’t take me for a ride – paraphrasing Peter Gabriel, 1975

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Quasi-Discovery Of the Natures of Skepticism
  3. Limitations
  4. Silent Sorrows In Dubious Sources
  5. In The Cage
  6. The Unconnected Dots
  7. Conclusions

5-In The Cage

Poles Apart: The International Reporting of Climate skepticism” is a good example of what I have recently described as the “journalists in a cage” situation. And it’s a cage of their own making:

“with no clue on what they are forced to write about in the hope of getting the least likely reader to still read their articles; with communications strictly coming only from a single channel; unable to report good news, ignorant of science and pretending to be commenting football: well, climate change reporters live in a cage of their own making and the real miracle is when any one of them does report anything remotely non-biased on climate change”

Note that Mr Painter did mention, during his presentation at the launch event, that people are “confused about skepticism” because few recognise the range of different opinions among skeptics. But why! It takes only a few minutes of participation, even just of reading of popular skeptical sites such as WattsupwiththatClimate AuditReal ScienceBishop HillThe Reference Frame to understand “the full spectrum of climate skepticism”. The “confusion” can only arise from a forcibly-myopic view, merging the extreme diversity of opinions only by keeping oneself away from skeptics, and considering them from afar as some kind of amorphous evil group of abnormal people, monsters unable to express themselves properly, continuously trying to spread disinformation with the aim of ruining the planet.

Even Mr Painter appears to have woken up to the absurdity of such a concept only after Copenhagen (or Climategate). And yet the cage pervades “Poles Apart”. At times, it pushes the report to the hedge of ridicule, reminding of Stalinist pamphlets claiming Trotskyites were not Communist enough (or Catholic documents proclaiming Protestants as non-believers). Look at how Bjorn Lomborg gets included as an example of “climate skeptic” (p23), despite having written in his own FAQ:

“Q: Does Lomborg deny man-made global warming exists?
A: No. In Cool It he writes: “global warming is real and man-made. It will have a serious impact on humans and the environment toward the end of this century” (p8).”

“Q: Does he believe we should do anything about global warming?
A: Yes. […] Lomborg also supports a CO 2 tax comparable with the central or high estimates of CO2 damages. That means an estimate in the range of $2-14 per ton of CO2 […] ”

What skeptic would include Lomborg among skeptics? It’s a concept that stretches the edges of reason. In the “Poles Apart” world where Bjorn-“global warming is real and man-made”-Lomborg gets branded as one of the bad guys and an exemplary one at that, one really has to wonder (a) who else would become a skeptic and (b) who’d ever be left out.

Step forward newly candidate “skeptic”, the IPCC no less. In its latest Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX)”, whose “Summary for Policymakers” is dated November 18, 2011, the IPCC becomes a “Poles Apart skeptic” in the “it is not known with enough certainty what the impacts will be, due to inadequacies of climate modelling or other doubts” category:

(p9) “Projected changes in climate extremes under different emissions scenarios generally do not strongly diverge in the coming two to three decades, but these signals are relatively small compared to natural climate variability over this time frame. Even the sign of projected changes in some climate extremes over this time frame is uncertain”.

Another potential “Poles Apart skeptic”? Richard Betts, Head of Climate Impacts (!) at the Met Office, seen on the web providing arguments for those unconvinced that “urgent action by governments and/or substantial government spending (on all or some aspects of mitigation or adaptation) to counter AGW is not necessary”:

“Most climate scientists do not subscribe to the 2 degrees “Dangerous Climate Change” meme (I [Richard Betts] know I don’t).”

Even Geoffrey Lean’s words at the end of the report fall under “anthropogenic global warming is happening but a) it is not known with enough certainty what the impacts will be”:

(p115) All but the extremists on either side agree that the planet is warming that humanity is at least partly responsible – and that we don’t know how big its contribution is, or what the effects will be

So “Poles Apart” ends, with its own final quote potentially “skeptical”. Think that’s absurd enough? Think again. If we try to reconstruct who’s not a skeptic, by reversing the “Poles Apart” definition, we find only True Believers. A “climate change non-skeptic” is anybody convinced that:

  • Global temperatures are warming, and
  • The anthropogenic contribution (burning fossil fuels) to global warming or climate change is not over-stated, compared to other factors like natural variations or sun spots, and
  • It is known with enough certainty what the main causes are, and
  • It is known with enough certainty what the impacts will be, as climate models are adequate and no other doubt is relevant enough, and
  • Urgent action by governments and/or substantial government spending (on all or some aspects of mitigation or adaptation) to counter AGW is necessary

Scientifically, it’s an untenable position: when there is no doubt, there is no science. It could make sense as a political stance, for an “extremist” party that is (as per Lean’s meaning of the word – see quote above). In any case, it is quite dangerous to mix the concept of ‘skepticism’ in policy and political matters. Shouldn’t people be free to disagree on one or more points without being labelled as ‘monsters’? Surely that’s something everybody agrees on (Chinese officials aside).

There is more unintended hilarity in the explanation given about the absence of climate change skeptics in the Brazilian media:

(p66) Brazilian journalists interviewed for this study also emphasised the strong journalistic culture of science and environment reporting which carried considerable weight within newspapers and other media outlets and strongly influenced their editorial line on climate skepticism

Of course they would, wouldn’t they? Classical scholars know the argument, it’s like Cicero writing “De domo sua”, about his own house. Nobody will speak badly about themselves. Quite the opposite: who will ever reply in an interview, “I’m sorry but we’re clueless about the science and just keep printing stuff from press releases”? Given also the fact that a few lines of text above, the Brazilian press is described as uninterested in global warming until five years ago:

(p65) There is some evidence for thinking that coverage of global warming and climate change in the Brazilian print media began to take off in the latter half of 2006

So much for “strong journalistic culture of science and environment reporting”. Another clear example of how distorted is Mr Painter’s view from within the cage, is the Appendix I of “Poles Apart”, dedicated to Climategate. All doubts on the six affair-related inquiries get assigned to skeptics, as if the author had given up on any possibility of serious investigation, an ironic situation for any journalist. Little wonder then if there are some inaccuracies.True, “Poles Apart” mentions the infamous words about “Mike’s Nature trick” to “hide the decline” and includes some kind of attempt at explaining what the fuss was all about:

(p117) the UEA scientists explained that the ‘decline’ referred to a drop in temperatures inferred from the proxy analysis of tree rings, and that the ‘trick’ meant a graphic device to merge different sets of data from tree rings and thermometer readings

Note however the reader is told nothing about what the hiding was (just a “graphic device”? No: the outright removal of inconvenient data values, and the smoothing of the join between two different data sets). Also there is no hint about the actual underlying issue (the “divergence problem”), or its importance, both described by Andrew Montford in “The Climategate Inquiries”, a report for the GWPF published in 2010:

(p16-17) “The issue revolved around a tree ring series that had been used to reconstruct temperatures of the past […]. This series diverged dramatically from instrumental temperatures in the last half of the twentieth century, experiencing a sharp decline during a period when instrumental temperatures were rising. Showing this divergence would have raised a major question mark over the reliability of tree ring temperature reconstructions since, if there is a divergence between tree rings and instrumental records in modern times, it cannot be said with any certainty that such divergences did not also occur in the past, rendering the temperature reconstruction of questionable utility”

Poles Apart” readers will get almost nothing of that. Furthermore, look at how Mr Painter describes Lord Oxburgh’s “Science Assessment Panel”, convened in the wake of Climategate:

(p117) “[the] independent [committee] commissioned by the UEA that focused on the science being done at CRU”

That is not so. Lord Oxburgh’s panel did not focus on science, rather on “integrity of research”, as per its own published concluding statement:

“The Panel was not concerned with the question of whether the conclusions of the published research were correct. Rather it was asked to come to a view on the integrity of the Unit’s research and whether as far as could be determined the conclusions represented an honest and scientifically justified interpretation of the data”

In an email exchange with Steve McIntyre, Lord Oxburgh was even more explicit:

“[…] as I [Lord Oxburgh] have pointed out to you previously the science was not the subject of our study”

And a lot could be said about the alleged “independence” of Lord Oxburgh’s “independent” panel (see “The Climategate Inquiries”, pp29-38).

These unfortunate cases of mistaken, partial and/or incomplete reporting will continue in Mr Painter’s and the RISJ output on climate change as long as texts written by skeptics will be considered anathema even as reading material, let alone source for quotes or information. “Poles Apart” is saturated of that attitude, and that makes the attentive reader wary of some of the material mentioned in it too. For example, a quote is taken from Naomi Oreskes and her book with Erik Conway “The Merchant of Doubt – How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming”:

(p13) “[in the USA, the] divergence between the state of the science and how it was presented in the major media helped make it easy for our governament to do nothing about global warming”

However “Poles Apart” has no space for Brian Wynne’s Nature review of that same book subtly reversing Oreskes’ conspiratorial stance:

“[Oreskes and Conway] miss a crucial point: the ingrained assumption that scientific evidence is the only authority that can justify policy action — scientism — is what renders both policy and its supporting science vulnerable to the dogmatic amplification of doubt.”

More: a rather inordinate outburst by Robin McKie of the Observer is given pride of place:

(p14) “Only a handful of truly reputable scientists are skeptical about the link between global warming and our industrial activities. More to the point, that minority is given a vastly disproportionate amount of publicity. Note the same old faces – the Lawsons and Moncktons – who are trotted out to speak on Newsnight or Channel 4 News whenever climate change is debated.”

That quote is from a public exchange between McKie and Benny Peiser, Director of the GWPF, in The Observer in the wake of Climategate and United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. “Poles Apart” does contain some of the text written on the occasion by Peiser too. This might be one of two or three direct quotes of words written by somebody considered a skeptic, in the whole report (note however, it contains nothing about climate change skepticism):

(p14) “For far too long, scientific organisations and the mainstream media did not give appropriate space to authoritative critics of inflated climate alarm.”

There are two problems with that. First of all, it is rather unfortunate that the one quote by a UK-based “skeptic”, is singularly buried in the text, rather than highlighted as every other quote as a block, with indented left and right margins. Only the most careful readers will not miss it.

More importantly, Peiser was talking about “inflated climate alarm” but McKie tried to shift the discussion to a “link between global warming and our industrial activity” – the existence of which does not imply the necessity to raise climate change alarms. Again in this case, “Poles Apart” seems to have conflated together all criticisms of mainstream climate change thinking into a single group.

After all: if few have so far defined what they mean by “climate change skepticism” (as noted by Andy Revkin); and few have recognised that there are several kinds of it (as noted by “Poles Apart” author James Painter); therefore, much of the existing literature on climate change skepticism and the media (or anything else) should be taken with the classical grain of salt.

Rather differently than Isaac Newton, Dr Painter might have found himself not on the shoulder of giants, but under the boots of minions. And that would explain the acceptance of the sloppy shorthand form, “climate skepticism” (rather than “climate CHANGE skepticism”). Unless that is, there is something else at work.

(continues)

The Unknown Skeptic – An Essay On “Poles Apart” – 4of7 – Silent Sorrows In Dubious Sources

THE UNKNOWN SKEPTIC – Journalism, awaiting to be freed
AN ESSAY ON JAMES PAINTER’S “Poles Apart

If I choose a side, It won’t take me for a ride – paraphrasing Peter Gabriel, 1975

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Quasi-Discovery Of the Natures of Skepticism
  3. Limitations
  4. Silent Sorrows In Dubious Sources
  5. In The Cage
  6. The Unconnected Dots
  7. Conclusions

4-Silent Sorrows In Dubious Sources

The almost complete absence of skeptical voices in “Poles Apart: The International Reporting of Climate skepticism” is as glaring as paradoxical as telling.

It is glaring, because the ultimate subject of the study doesn’t make almost any first-hand appearance, in a sea of ultimately unreliable hearsays. “Poles Apart” at times reads like a LGBT study written without any LGBT author or interviewee: so much for “agnosticism”.

It is paradoxical, because it further removes academic value from the report. Had skeptics been involved, truly “Poles Apart” would have been groundbreaking: alongside a definition of skepticism and a recognition of the diversity among skeptics, it would have included even a treatment of skeptics as normal human beings deserving attention, instead of monsters (note that there is a quote from Benny Peiser of the GWPF at page 14 – but blink and you’ll miss it; more on that later).

And what it is telling? The attempt of writing about skepticism without listening to skeptics shows the conditions under which the report has been written. We have already seen how Mr Painter’s warmist stance managed to have a large negative impact on his insightful observation that there are several kinds of skepticism. There are two further and complementary aspects to that: the excessive (almost, tragic) trust put in dubious (and always warmist) sources, and the determined effort to lock oneself in a warmist cage in order to keep skeptics away.

Having to rush through his opening presentation at the launch event of “Poles Apart” in order to make time for Mr Revkin, who had to leave relatively early, Mr Painter still made sure the audience would know the report had been built upon a large number of academic works in the field of climate change and the media. This is of course very important to provide “Poles Apart” with a “firmer footing” than a purely anecdotal approach. However, it also means that very same footing is weakened by the uncritical acceptance of dubious sources.

Take for example Professor Steve Jones’ “Independent assessment” for the July 2011 BBC Trust review of impartiality and accuracy of the BBC’s coverage of science, cited throughout the report (eg page 23, footnote 58). Prof Jones was present at the launch event and intervened to repeat his mantra about the BBC striving too much for “balance”, even receiving an applause for making the unreal-world example of a scientist claiming 2+2=4 and the BBC feeling the need to invite somebody claiming that 2+2=5.

Of course it has been known for a while that Prof Jones’ contribution to the BBC impartiality and accuracy was anything but. The very review document’s PDF had to be modified a few days after publication to sport the following text at page 2:

“On 8 August 2011 the Trust published an updated version of Professor Steve Jones’ independent review of the accuracy and impartiality of the BBC’s science coverage due to an ambiguity in the section on climate change. This reference was in the section on pages 71-72, immediately before Professor Jones discussed statements about climate change contained in two BBC programmes. The Trust and Professor Jones now recognise that the passage as originally published could be interpreted as attributing statements made in those two programmes to Lord Lawson or to Lord Monckton. Neither programme specifically featured Lord Lawson or Lord Monckton and it was not Professor Jones’ intention to suggest that this was the case. Professor Jones has apologised for the lack of clarity in this section of his assessment, which has now been amended.”

To this day, it is not know to whom to attribute those “statements”. Perhaps less known is the fact that Professor Jones’ inaccuracies don’t stop with the good Lords. From page 72 of the “Independent Assessment”:

“A submission made to this Review by Andrew Montford and Tony Newbery (both active in the anti‐global‐warming movement, and the former the author of The Hockey Stick Illusion: Climategate and the Corruption of Science) devotes much of its content to criticising not the data on temperatures but the membership of a BBC seminar on the topic in 2006, and to a lengthy discussion as to whether its Environment Analyst was carrying out BBC duties or acting as a freelance during an environment programme at Cambridge University. The factual argument, even for activists, appears to be largely over but parts of the BBC are taking a long time to notice.”

The misrepresentation of Montford and Newbery’s submission moves Professor Jones’ assessment into cheap fiction territory. As described by Montford in his Bishop Hill Blog:

“Readers may remember that Tony Newbery (of Harmless Sky) and I made a submission to the review. In it we demonstrated that the BBC Trust had misled the public over a seminar discussing climate change coverage back in 2006.”

Newbery is as succint as explicit:

“can anyone explain to me why Andrew and I might choose to write about the global temperature record to a geneticist who is conducting a review of journalism for a broadcaster? Apparently Professor Jones thinks that is what we should have done. And he also seems to think that because we didn’t do this, we must think that the debate about the science of climate change is over. That is just plain silly.

In fact we wrote to Professor Jones providing evidence, and I do mean evidence, that the BBC’s news gathering operation had become far too close to environmental activism and environmental activists to be able to report climate change impartially or accurately (here). That criticism is clearly material to his report, and his failure to address the issues we raised says far more about the rigour with which he has conducted his review than it does about our views on the science of climate change, which are in any case irrelevant to his review.”

Did Professor Jones actually read, let alone strove to understand Montford and Newbery’s submission? That doesn’t look likely. By the way, they were not granted a correction. The fact that they are not Lords of the Land has obviously nothing to do with that.

Speaking immediately after Professor Jones at the “Poles Apart” launch event, I myself did wonder loudly if we were inhabiting the same universe. Has the BBC ever invited anybody to discuss 2+2=5? Of course not. What one finds on the airwaves and in the website is a Corporation encouraging a WWF activist to campaign on live radio during a recent broadcasting of Radio4’s flagship Today programme; and being obsessed with global warming to the point of inserting tips on how to organise a climate change conference in his Italian language course of all places (see my blog post: “Yes, John: Steve Jones Is Wrong And The BBC Totally Unbalanced On Climate Change”, Nov 11).

Perhaps Professor Jones does consider any question improper, even the pretend ones asked at the Today programme. Things have been progressing though: as if it were at all possible, the situation is now getting even worse for the BBC “impartiality”, “accuracy” and Professor Jones’ “2+2=5” argument, with the news that some TV and radio programmes might have been surreptitiously sponsored by activist organisations and companies with vested interests in pushing forward a “warmist” agenda on climate change. See here.

Professor Jones’ “Independent Assessment” is not the only document Mr Painter’s own “warmist” stance appears to have mislead him into trusting. Greenpeace aside, there are references in “Poles Apart” to heavily-biased group “Media Matters”, and even to Joe Romm, the climate change full-time paid blogger for the Center for American Progress, whose implacable extremism over the years pushed Andy Revkin to half-jokingly say during the launch event (eliciting general hilarity):

“Part of the news process means being wrong some of the time. Joe Romm is never wrong.”

Quoting Romm about climate change should be avoided if the topic is not caricature. It is equivalent to quoting a six-day creationist about the Book of Genesis, and just as informative. Likewise, “Poles Apart” refers an inordinate amount of times to a book where an environmental scientist (Dr Haydn Washington) and a cartoonist/blogger (John Cook) insanely describe skepticism as a sociopathological trait (“Climate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand”). In fact the problem is not so much citing from this or that source, but the amount of trust put in them. Skepticism, obviously, is very much needed also when gathering for information. The Joe Romms of the world may even be interesting, insightful, provocative, and worthy of being read and quoted at will. But anybody taking their words as “right” will find themselves in danger of being led astray.

This applies to the very same New York Times where Mr Revkin still takes care of the DotEarth blog. “Poles Apart” quotes from Curtis Brainard of the Columbia Journalism Review:

(p90) “It’s not simple ideology: it’s more that the [New York] Times is not blinded by ideology”

Attentive readers might disagree. At the beginning of March 2010, an article by John M Broder appeared in the front page of the International Herald Tribune, the global edition of the New York Times. The article was titled “Feeling the heat from critics, climate scientists battle back” and it was a first attempt by the NYT to do some analysis on Climategate (an ‘affair’ that was four months old at the time already).

Uniquely in the history of the IHT (whose articles usually follow the US edition, appearing on paper a day after they’ve been written and published on the website), Broder’s article was nowhere to be seen at nytimes.com until the early AM GMT hours of March 3. As I reported on my blog the following day:

“Tellingly, the structure has been heavily changed, and the interviewees as well. I have had a series of e-mail exchanges with Mr Broder today and won’t report any of them. The impression remains that some Editor at the NYT panicked after reading the IHT version, and got Mr Broder or some sub-editor to rewrite it almost from scratch to eliminate some inconvenient names and acquire warmist respectability by giving the concluding remarks to Gavin Schmidt. All in all, it has been an episode wholly consistent with an atmosphere of climate bullying at the NYT.”

An important point to make is that neither version of Mr Broder’s article looked remotely “skeptical” on climate change, so this is not an episode of censorship. Rather, it is further evidence of the New York Times being “blinded by ideology” on climate-related pieces, so that the original quote by Judith Curry on Broder’s piece for example had to be excised and the article purified further (in the “warmist” direction, of course). To see how debasing this has become for the climate sections of the newspaper, have a look at Souren Melikian’s wonderful, questioning, informative, challenging, no-holds-barred IHT articles on the art market.

Sadly, self-blinding by ideology is seldom the result of a conscious process. Mr Painter may have done just as much in “Poles Apart”. In Appendix 3 we are told:

(p123) “the search engines came up with significant numbers of articles where the key word ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’ were mentioned briefly at the start but where not the main focus [or] the article was not about either of these topics. […] We decided to keep these in the sample ”

and

(p123) “an opinion piece could be skeptical in tone about global warming/climate change, or the need to take measures to combat it, but include no mention or quoting of skeptical voices. These were generally excluded”

How strange…non-skeptics get included no matter who’s mentioned, skeptics get excluded unless somebody else is mentioned. As if there truly were too many skeptical voices to choose from. One has to wonder why no author noticed the end result, a zero count for “skeptical editorials” in all countries and newspapers (see table 4.1, lines 20/21 at page 56).

This is equivalent to building a cage for oneself, safe inside away from the words of those nasty, evil, monstrous skeptics.

The Unknown Skeptic – An Essay On "Poles Apart" – 3of7 – Limitations

THE UNKNOWN SKEPTIC – Journalism, awaiting to be freed
AN ESSAY ON JAMES PAINTER’S “Poles Apart

If I choose a side, It won’t take me for a ride – paraphrasing Peter Gabriel, 1975

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Quasi-Discovery Of the Natures of Skepticism
  3. Limitations
  4. Silent Sorrows In Dubious Sources
  5. In The Cage
  6. The Unconnected Dots
  7. Conclusions

3-Limitations

Poles Apart: The International Reporting of Climate skepticism” is refreshingly outspoken about what it is and what it is not. Surely Mr Painter and colleagues won’t mind additional help on the subject.

Appendix II (pages 125-127) explains that:

  • the studies were quantitative, therefore losing potentially important details;
  • there wasn’t analysis about how much skeptical voices were challenged in the media, and about the positioning of articles in the papers;
  • only printed media were included, excluding therefore a vibrant online climate change scene;
  • in the UK, differences between the daily and Sunday editions were glossed over;
  • and finally articles were excluded if they mostly focused on Rajendra Pachauri, the Head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), rather than on climate change itself.

Richard Black of the BBC, no “skeptic” of course, listed some more limitations in his blog commentary to “Poles Apart”, published in the morning of the launch event day:

“[“Poles Apart”] can’t be considered a truly comprehensive global snapshot in that it’s looked at only six countries, albeit important ones…this is a toe-dip into media coverage rather than a comprehensive survey.”

Toe-dip”? Indeed, “Poles Apart” is not academic, and it doesn’t pretend to be. But this also means it is more akin to a collection of impressions and anecdotes informed by academic studies and datasets, than to a scientific work. And this is a problem: as everybody who is active in the climate change discourse surely and painfully knows, there cannot be much understanding of the real world without science. A point sadly lost on Leo Hickman of the Guardian, again commenting on “Poles Apart”:

“…a hunch I have long believed to carry some substance: climate skepticism is a predominantly Anglo-Saxon phenomenon. Or, rather, it is a phenomenon that tends to gets amplified to a much greater extent in the various English-language media outlets around the world – particularly, in the US, UK and Australia – than it does in other languages or countries. Until now, there has been very little beyond the anecdotal to support this theory. But the proposition is now on a firmer footing thanks to a new report…”

Hickman is wrong on multiple fronts, and “Poles Apart” will leave him confused, worse, incorrectly sure about the still-unknowable.

If one wanted to really look into English-language media, there’s much more than climate skepticism that tends to get amplified. Take the Daily Mail, reported in “Poles Apart” as providing space to skeptics but very much on the warmist side until the end of 2009 at least: to the point of publishing a fantasy-based article about drowning polar bears, loosely based on some actual sightings (of non-drowning polar bears). The article was reprised and the fantasy amplified further (!!!) in the Italian media at the time, as documented at my Sep 3, 2008 blog post “Polar Bears: Has the Daily Mail Just Pulled a Deceiving Article?”.

Scientifically speaking, the anecdotal nature of “Poles Apart” is just one of the potential ‘confounding factors’, that is, the missing or not sufficiently explored details that might have misled Mr Painter and colleagues in their analysis. In fact, the UK overreaction to past climate change scares should have been investigated in “Poles Apart”, but wasn’t, leaving a gaping hole, even if Brazilian journalist Claudio Angelo is quoted as saying:

(p67) [Brazilian daily newspaper] Folha underreported ‘Climategate’, partly to resist the media frenzy created in the UK around the affair, and partly because Brazil has never hyped climate change the way the British press did, with a lot of doom-and-gloom stories.

Other ‘confounding factors':

  • Are ‘skeptics’ truly and fully represented by the four categories used in “Poles Apart”?
  • What exactly is represented in the media included in the research? Mr Revkin told the launch event audience that he left journalism to work on “fostering innovation”. Minutes later, Yves Sciama said “I’m a science reporter” after an audience member had reminded everybody that climate change should better be described as an issue not of science, rather about the political economy of energy generation, distribution and consumption.
  • How many of the articles in the analysis were based on ‘churnalism’, the almost wholesale dressing up of news agency and press release copy as original articles, a problem very much present across the world and definitely in the UK media, and a problem mentioned in passing in “Poles Apart”?
  • In the Anglo-Saxon vs. Rest-of-the-World differences about Climategate, what was the contribution of the fact that 100% of the Climategate material was in English and most of it included British and American scientists?
  • Is there any other running difference between the media in the UK and USA compared to the other nations involved in the analysis, for example linked to ownership structure?
  • Was the reported change in coverage of climate change skepticism accompanied by changes in public opinion? If yes, which change led, and which one followed? And how does the situation about climate change compare to other scientific and/or political topics?
  • Is there any link between prevalence of skeptical voices and the realisation that certain parts of the world are expected to have to pay for mitigation and adaptation, and others to receive funding instead?

These are all questions to answers before reaching an academic level, before having scientific conclusions, i.e. before being able to draw conclusions at all.

There is one aspect we can investigate further. Chapter 2 of “Poles Apart”, “The Nature of Climate skepticism” is 18 pages long and still the first skeptic mentioned in there is after four-and-a-half pages (Pat Michaels). Among the first things we learn, his “about 40 per cent” funding from “oil industry sources”. No other quotes by Michaels are provided, and there is no description of what he is skeptical about. A little more can be had with Steve McIntyre, whose voluminous blog Climate Audit is mentioned but not quoted (a description of McIntyre’s “skepticism” is taken from “one US magazine”). This means statements like the one below (from Climate Audit’s Jan 5, 2006 entry) are literally invisible to the “Poles Apart” authors:

“As I often repeat, I [Steve McIntyre] am not a “contrarian”. If I were a politician and forced to make a decision on climate policy in the next 10 minutes, I would be guided by the IPCC and the various learned societies that I so often criticize.”

Lord Monckton? Readers of “Poles Apart” learn of his “anti-communist ideology” before everything else. No quote by him either. Finally, Bjorn Lomborg. Guess what? No quote by the Danish scientist. The chapter about skepticism chugs along with a single direct quote by a non-warmist, “Joe Bast, the head of climate skeptic Heartland Institute” but his printed words (to Nature magazine) are not about skeptical propositions:

(p25) “The left has no reason to look under the hood of global warming […] The right does, and that’s what happened”

No much luck in the rest of the chapter with Lord Lawson’s Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), Ian Plimer, etc etc. We have already seen that the Bibliography points to a single skeptical work, in French. What was then the effect on the “Poles Apart” analysis of having it done without any skeptic either among the authors or interviewees?

The Unknown Skeptic – An Essay On "Poles Apart" – 2of7 – The Quasi-Discovery Of the Natures of Skepticism

THE UNKNOWN SKEPTIC – Journalism, awaiting to be freed
AN ESSAY ON JAMES PAINTER’S “Poles Apart

If I choose a side, It won’t take me for a ride – paraphrasing Peter Gabriel, 1975

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Quasi-Discovery Of the Natures of Skepticism
  3. Limitations
  4. Silent Sorrows In Dubious Sources
  5. In The Cage
  6. The Unconnected Dots
  7. Conclusions

2-The Quasi-Discovery Of the Natures of Skepticism

A major problem in the “Poles Apart: The International Reporting of Climate skepticism” report is an apparent, underlying inconsistency driven by the unshaken belief that there is something wrong in being a climate change skeptic of any sort. The authors’ relentlessly “warmist” opinions result in the undermining of what could have been a great attempt at clarifying what climate change skepticism actually is.

This all starts with quite a strong claim, early on in the report:

(p14) “This study has been prompted by these important [climate change] debates but it is largely agnostic about them. It is not its purpose to criticise climate skeptics.”

Is that so? Mr Painter is not new to climate-related work and his past activity reveals a clear stance on the science, policy and politics of climate change. Exactly a year ago Mr Painter published for the RISJ another report, aptly and self-consciously titled “Summoned by Science: Reporting Climate Change at Copenhagen and Beyond” with a main web page describing him:

“Mr Painter is the head of the Journalism Fellowship Programme at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. He worked for several years at the BBC World Service in various capacities including Americas Executive editor, head of the Spanish American Service and head of the BBC Miami office. He has written extensively on climate change, the media and Latin America for several organisations and publications, including the BBC, the UNDP, Oxfam and Oxford Analytica. He is the author of several books on Latin America, and of the RISJ challenge, Counter-Hegemonic News: A case study of Al-Jazeera English and Telesur.”

BBC, UNDP, Oxfam, Oxford Analytica, and now the British Council, hardly hotbeds of skepticism, In fact the “Summoned by Science” report contains a revealing phraseology such as:

(p9) “A more science-based series of reports […] released in the months running up to Copenhagen suggested […] the need for an ambitious and binding deal was made all the more urgent by the latest science”

(p10) “it was not just the heads of state, but journalists too who had been summoned to Copenhagen by the urgency of the climate science”

(p88) “The phenomenon of extreme climatic events around the world in 2010 suggests that reporting people’s experience of the weather will become more pressing an issue. Separate data from the NOAA and NASA published in July 2010 found that the first half of the year was the warmest on record globally. Seventeen countries – including Pakistan which registered a record temperature of 53.5C – have experienced record-breaking high temperatures. As Peter Stott of the UK Met Office explained, ‘the evidence is so clear the chance there’s something we haven’t thought of [that could be warming the climate the other than GHGs] seems to be getting smaller and smaller’.”

Mr Painter has also provided the 2008 Annual Lecture at the Society for Latin American Studies (SLAS), on the topic “Climate Change, Latin America and the Media“, where he explained:

(p1) “in the last 18 months I have been lucky enough to travel to parts of the world on the front line of the impact of global warming. These have included Indonesia, Greenland, Vietnam where sea level rises threaten catastrophic economic effects, and Bolivia and Peru where the melting glaciers raise very serious concerns over future freshwater supplies in the dry season”

(p3) “One respected research group is now predicting ice-free summers by 2013”

(p4) “We know that after 10,000 years of relatively stable temperatures, global warming has caused the Amazon region to increase in temperature by about a quarter of a degree C per decade since 1975”

Mr Painter’s attitude in matters of climate change doesn’t remotely reminds of skepticism and is clear throughout the “Poles Apart” report. For example the Climategate “affair” is referred at page 14 to Fred Pearce’s “The Climate Files” and an “unpublished manuscript” by a Myanna Lahsen, with no mention of very-much-published books, Andrew Montford’s “The Hockey Stick Illusion – Climategate and the Corruption of Science” or of (non-skeptic) Steven Mosher and Thomas W. Fuller’s “Climategate: The CRUtape Letters”. The Bibliography refers also to Greenpeace but includes only a single “skeptic” piece, in French by Claude Allègre. And the whole report seemingly assumes the curious opinion that everything ‘skeptic’ is necessarily lacking legitimacy, as implied in Columbia Journalism Review’s Curtis Brainard’s quote from page 39, where climate (change) skepticism becomes the opposite of ‘straight reporting’ of science:

(p39) “Overall I would say that coverage of climate skepticism is a relatively minor problem. […] Almost all the US newspapers now report the science straight; they just don’t cover it prominently or enough”

Near the end of the report, Mr Painter goes further, linking climate change skepticism to “anti-science sentiments”. Note the figure of speech: ‘anti-science’ plus ‘sentiment’, in other words, skepticism as ‘twice irrational':

(p113) “The way in which climate skepticism feeds into, and is a manifestation of, wider anti-science sentiments both within a newspaper and wider society is just one area with needs further research”

As common in works of a much lower quality than “Poles Apart”, suggestions about some evil monstrosity lurking behind skepticism are not far from the surface. Look at the case of Nitin Sethi, a special correspondent for the Times of India. Try as he might, Mr Sethi admits he can’t find nefarious skeptic puppeteers, actually is convinced there is little coordination among skeptics, versus a giant organised pushing by “climate change ‘believers‘”. Never mind, that baseless initial fear of skeptics being funded by or affiliated to the devil or thereby, is deemed enough to shut off all “skeptical voices” (my emphasis):

(p83) [Nitin Sethi] says he has found about 8-10 articles in scientific journals carrying skeptical voices, but he has been ‘skeptical about picking them up. My first question has been to ask if I can find their sources of funding or affiliation’. Finally [he] says he is not aware of any coordinate lobbying attempts by skeptics in India. On the contrary, he says the voice of the climate change ‘believers’ is so strong that he is wary of civil society and the 500 local and internationally affiliated NGOs he says there are in India which are pushing the government to do more on climate change.

Poles Apart” gives further credence to the ‘skeptics-as-evil-monsters’ idea by pointing readers (page 114, note 256) to Tom Yulsman’s Copenhagen-era “7 Tips for Covering Climate Change”, that includes the conspiratorial invitation to

“Understand and distinguish between legitimate analyses and what Eric Pooley calls ‘weapons of mass persuasion’”

For some reason, the “Poles Apart” authors don’t connect ‘mass persuasion‘ to Nithin Seti’s NGOs. Another example of skepticism as abomination is in the words of Emily Shuckburgh of the British Antarctic Survey, lamenting the concept as having been somehow stolen:

(p17) “skepticism is a major part of science. and it’s a shame it has been appropriated. […] If we could reclaim the word, that would be progress”

Finally, Mr Painter’s work for the report has been sponsored by the British Council. Sponsorship is seldom a problem, but it means having to work very hard before being able to claim “agnosticism” on any topic. The sponsor, in fact, is not agnostic at all, as per the British Council’s “Climate Change” web page:

“The evidence is clear: human activity is dramatically altering the environment of the very world we live in. Through deforestation and burning fossil fuels, our actions are releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, raising the temperature of the land, sea and air. Climate change affects us all and it’s taking place on a global and local scale.”

Furthermore, the British Council is proud organiser of a“Climate Change Programme”:

“made up of a series of projects which focus on different parts of society, on differing communities, in order to provide an understanding of climate change throughout society, not just within the scientific and political communities”

As recently as July 2011, the Chief Executive of the British Council has reassured Guardian readers their climate change work will continue:

“Climate change will remain an important part of the content of our core programmes in the arts, English, education and society around the world. Apart from climate change being a critical issue in its own right, it also captures the imagination of young people and stimulates international debate. Our work is part of the UK’s commitment to tackling climate change”

Just like it would be difficult to imagine the British Council sponsoring a report that would undermine all that climate change effort, it is therefore also difficult to believe “Poles Apart” to be “agnostic” about climate change “skepticism”. This appears clearly also in one of Mr Painter’s most important points, the understanding that there is more than one kind of climate change “skepticism”.

(p114) “This study has gone to some lengths to describe the full spectrum of climate skepticism. This is because we think, like many other commentators, that it is the role of good journalism to differentiate between the types of skepticism”

Andy Revkin, former environment correspondent at The New York Times and well-known climate blogger, praised “Poles Apart” on this point at the launch event. Notably, Mr Painter had figured out as much in the 2010 “Summoned by Science” report:

(p78) “there are serious and well-informed bloggers who are not driven by political ideologies or by money from the fossil fuel lobby. The blogosphere may be ‘impure’ compared to the peer-review process but it clearly demands openness and access to data that were absent in the preinternet days. And it is here to stay.”

Unfortunately, the importance of such a realisation does not reverberate throughout the “Poles Apart” report: readers are treated to repeated attempts at conflating all skeptics together, and ”skeptic” and “denier” remain frustratingly interchangeable. For example in Appendix 4 the list of “skeptics” does not contain any category, conflating US politician Joe Barton, scientist John Christy, UK politician Lord Nigel Lawson and TV presenter Alan Titchmarsh all ending up under a single, giant umbrella.

Another example concerns what is described in the report as the “methodology commonly applied” in academic studies of climate change in the media (p36), where four categories of newspaper articles are described as those that:

  1. “present the viewpoint that anthropogenic global warming (AGW) accounts for all climate changes
  2. present multiple viewpoints, but emphasise that anthropogenic contributions significantly contribute to climate changes
  3. give a ‘balanced account’ surrounding the existence and non-existence of AGW
  4. present multiple viewpoints but emphasise the claim that the anthropogenic component contributes negligibly to changes in the climate”

According to Mr Painter though, “Category (4) is where skeptic, denialist, or contrarian views would be most represented.” This is in contradiction to “Poles Apart”’s definition of “skeptic” reported above.

The problem continues when “Poles Apart” turns to politics:

(p112) “The view that climate skepticism is mainly a feature of a certain narrow strand of conservative ideology (libertarian and strongly free-market) may also help to explain the situation in the USA […] This is also one factor explaining the absence of persistent climate-skeptic voices in the media in Brazil, France, and India”

However, during the launch event Mr Revkin did make the point that US TV networks are fairly “progressive” (his word) on the topic of climate change. On the other hand, this is not mirrored by a large “progressive” majority in the population. It is also not clear how many libertarians in social and economic matters would describe themselves as “conservative” (as if there were too much freedom to preserve). But again, how could any of that accommodate for all people with opinions ranging from “global temperatures are not warming” to “anthropogenic global warming is happening but urgent action by governments to counter AGW is not necessary”?

The report authors seem to be moving back and fro on who actually qualifies as “skeptic”. And so whilst the recognition of the variety of skeptical positions rises “Poles Apart” above many undignified, low-quality polemics against “climate change denialists”, it almost looks as if parts of report have been written by somebody unaware of the existence of that very same point. It’s a confusion that could have been easily avoided.

(continues)

The Unknown Skeptic – An Essay On "Poles Apart" – 1of7 – Introduction

THE UNKNOWN SKEPTIC – Journalism, awaiting to be freed
AN ESSAY ON JAMES PAINTER’S “Poles Apart

If I choose a side, It won’t take me for a ride – paraphrasing Peter Gabriel, 1975

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Quasi-Discovery Of the Natures of Skepticism
  3. Limitations
  4. Silent Sorrows In Dubious Sources
  5. In The Cage
  6. The Unconnected Dots
  7. Conclusions

1-Introduction

“This is a wide-ranging comparative study about the prevalence of climate skeptic voices in the print media in six countries: Brazil, China, France, India, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America.”

That is the opening line of “Poles Apart: The International Reporting of Climate skepticism” a report written by a team of researchers headed by James Painter for the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ) and the British Council; and a great example of all that is strange with contemporary (climate-mainstream) journalism: a mix of the sublime and of the much-less-than-sublime, where great insights and surprisingly clear expositions have to coexist with stunning simplifications, abysmal naïvetés and incredibly one-sided analyses fed by an almost existential neglect of a large chunk of reality.

Hosted by the British Council in London on November 10, 2011 (live microblogging here), the launch event for “Poles Apart” saw Mr Painter accompanied by a panel composed by Rebecca Nadin, author of the China section of the report; Yves Sciama, French science/environment journalist and author; and (via internet videoconference) Andy Revkin, former environment journalist at the New York Times where he still manages the “Dot Earth” blog. The panel chair was John Lloyd, well-known journalist and Director of Journalism at the RISJ.

As described in its Executive Summary, the aims of the study were:

“to track any increase in the amount of space given to skeptical voices over the two periods and to map significant differences both between countries and within the print media of the same country”

The two periods were Feb-Ap 2007 and mid-Nov 2009 to mid-Feb 2010. The former was chosen to cover the after-effects of the publication of the latest assessment of climate change science by the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The latter included the aftermath of both ‘Climategate‘ (the unauthorised 17 Nov 2009 release of 1,000 emails and other documents taken by as-yet-unspecified individuals from the archives of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (UEA)) and the giant 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Copenhagen (7-18 Dec).

The effort behind “Poles Apart” has been truly remarkable, with an analysis of almost 5,000 newspaper articles, taken “in most countries” from “ an example of a left-leaning and a right-leaning newspaper”. This is because the authors:

“were also interested in exploring whether there was a correspondence between the prevalence of skeptical voices and the political leaning of a newspaper”

Results roughly followed along the same line, at least in some countries. According to the press release accompanying “Poles Apart”:

“the researchers discovered a link between the amount of coverage given to climate skeptics and the political viewpoint of newspaper titles in the UK and the US”

However

“this link did not appear in the other study countries – Brazil, France and India”

Mr Painter summarised in the press release the report conclusions about what is behind the differences:

“There are politicians in the UK and the US who espouse some variation of climate skepticism. Both countries also have organisations for ‘climate change skeptics’ that provide a skeptical voice for the media, particularly in those media outlets that are more receptive to this message. This is why we see more skeptical coverage in the Anglo-Saxon countries than we do in the other countries in the study where one or more of those factors appear to be absent”

Remarkably, “Poles Apart” recognizes there are several forms of climate skepticism. It even contains a varied definition of “skeptic”, as somebody holding one or more of the following views (see Appendix 2, item 8, page 121 in the report)

  1. global temperatures are not warming
  2. global temperatures are warming but a) the anthropogenic contribution (burning fossil fuels) to global warming or climate change is over-stated, negligible, or non-existent compared to other factors like natural variations or sun spots or b) it is not known with any or enough certainty what the main causes are
  3. anthropogenic global warming is happening but a) it is not known with enough certainty what the impacts will be, due to inadequacies of climate modelling or other doubts; b) urgent action by governments and/or substantial government spending (on all or some aspects of mitigation or adaptation) to counter AGW is not necessary

However, for reasons that are never made clear, the six categories are often conflated throughout the report, and skepticism in one or more aspects of climate change is short-handed into a meaningless phrasing, “climate skepticism”. And rather strangely, “Poles apart” closes with a quote by “veteran British environmental journalist Geoffrey Lean”, somehow throwing in the air the whole idea of the relevance of a focus on “skeptical voices”:

“We should be debating not scientific certainty, but risk – or more precisely, what levels of risk we are prepared to take with the futures of our children and grandchildren”

That’s one of several instances where “Poles Apart” comes close to undermining its own raison d’être.

(continues)

Dark Of The Night At The AMS

Comment of mine at Judith Curry’s Climate Etc about the Dec 2011 entry in the “45 Beacon: Letter from Headquarters” column of the “Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS)”, written by Keith Seitter, Executive Director of the AMS:

Judith – I don’t think you’ve read what he’s written. And I am not sure he read what you wrote either.

Mr Seitter is still entrenched in his CAGW bubble and can’t possibly understand much about the Uncertainty Monster.

First of all, he acknowledges to have “overly simplified the situation” by separating people in “convinced” and “unconvinced“, then towards the end of his piece he goes back addressing “the unconvinced crowd“.

He has also no clue about the possibility that, among the “convinced by the evidence that anthropogenic climate change [is] occurring“, there could be people unconvinced it’s anything to be afraid of, or not overall beneficial.

Third, It is illogical to state “Scientists generally welcome any avenue of research that is carried out with integrity and scientific rigor — especially when the results of that research challenge our thinking” just before writing “Many climate scientists will be angered by this paper“. The two sentences can’t be true in the same universe.

You should also take note of Mr Seitter’s militant (fundamentalist?) approach to the topic. He can drone on and on about wholly uncalled-for references to “a standard of scientific honest[y] that most of the[i]r blogs and opinion pieces simply cannot meet” and “unscientific noise that seeks to obscure real scientific results“. All one should read is of course “We have the Truth and everybody not perfectly adhering to our Truth is wrong and dishonest“.

In short, Mr Seitter has not understood what your paper was about, and still lives in-between the “monster hiding” and “monster exorcism” phases. And I wouldn’t trust him with an ice core extracted from a Coca-Cola deposit.

PS And are you [JC] sure that your paper should be considered just a “reminder that our desire to develop a self-consistent and coherent picture sometimes impedes our ability to work toward unraveling the full complexity of the climate system“? Does Mr Seitter understand climate?

Lysenkoism And ‘Global Warming’ _by Professor Cliff Ollier

Infamous Soviet scientist Trofim Lysenko has become topical again after the recent WSJ “Don’t Panic (about global warming)” letter (read about it also here and here). In the interest of historical record, I am posting here the recovered text of “Lysenkoism And ‘Global Warming’” written some years ago by Professor Cliff Ollier and mentioned in this blog almost four years ago.

The original link does not work any longer (and the WaybackMachine hides the text for some reason). There is also a slightly different version in the Lavoisier Group website. (h/t Justin Ert)

Lysenkoism And ‘Global Warming’
by Professor Cliff Ollier

Trofim Denisovich Lysenko [Трофи́м Дени́сович Лысе́нко; pictured left] (1898 – 1976) was an insignificant agriculturalist who thought he had a new way of developing crops that would vastly increase food production in the starving Russia of Stalin. It was called ‘vernalisation’, and it included treating seeds before cultivation to affect their behaviour.

Significantly, Lysenko introduced his ideas first through politics, in which he benefited from weighty support. Some argue that his precepts had a Marxist flavour, because they asserted that biology could be modified in the way that communists wanted to control people’s behaviour. The government was anxious to increase food production and to quell disturbances among the growers, while Lysenko was an adept propagandist. He became a cult leader who impressed the peasants.

Lysenko was the head of the Soviet Lenin All Union Institute of Agricultural Sciences, and he ran the nation’s research in this field. He promised to triple or to quadruple crop yields.

He demonised conventional genetics, which again suited his masters, who believed this to be the basis behind fascist eugenics.

No Opposition Tolerated

Opposition to Lysenko was not tolerated, and was labeled ‘bourgeois’ or ‘fascist’. Lysenko used his position to denounce Mendelian geneticists as “fly-lovers and people haters”, which had serious consequences. From 1934 to 1940, with Stalin’s blessing, numerous geneticists were shot, and others exiled to Siberia. Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov [Николай Иванович Вавилов; pictured left] (1887 – 1943), for example, a truly great geneticist and biogeographer, was sent to Siberia, where he died of starvation in 1943, while Lysenko, in person, took over his role as Director of the Lenin Academy of Agricultural Sciences. Any survivor of the purge had to keep quiet. In 1948, genetics was officially labeled a ‘bourgeois pseudoscience’, and genetic research came to a halt. Krushchev also supported Lysenko, but, after his departure in 1964, the Academy of Sciences investigated the records, and a devastating critique of Lysenko was made public. The ban on genetics was finally lifted in 1965.

When Lysenko denounced Mendelian thought as reactionary and decadent, he also announced that his speech had the approval of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. The parallel for the ‘Global Warming’ movement is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, which works through national and international organisations. The IPCC claims its reports are written by 2500 scientists, but in reality they are drawn up by only about 35 people, and are effectively ‘controlled’ by an even smaller number.

Opposition to ‘Global Warming’ is often likened to ‘Holocaust Denial’. We are repeatedly told that there is no debate – hardly a scientific approach. The influence of the IPCC has spread, and it has become increasingly difficult to get research funding without being a ‘believer in Global Warming’.

A New Religion

Why would governments be persuaded to follow this idea before it was scientifically evaluated? One reason may be that there was a rising tide of what some have likened to a new religion – ‘Environmentalism’. Of course, no politician wants to be seen as ‘anti-environment’, or to lose the votes of the ‘Greens’. The ‘Greens’, for their part, are happy to follow the climate-change line because it gives them enormous political power. As a minor party or influence they hold the balance of power, and the major parties dare not offend them.

The propaganda machine of the IPCC is magnificent, with its greatest tool being the Al Gore film, An Inconvenient Truth. This still has enormous impact, although the High Court in Britain did decide it could not be shown in schools without comment because it contained major errors. I suspect that this film was the reason that the Nobel Peace Prize was given to Al Gore and to the IPCC.

Another propaganda hit was the infamous ‘Hockey Stick Graph’, purporting to show that temperature was rising at an ever-increasing rate. This has been totally discredited, but it still seems to be branded on the collective mind of politicians and the public. Much Government propaganda has been lent to support ‘Global Warming’, and major media outlets, such as the BBC in Britain, have chosen to join in on the ‘Global Warming’ side.

No Siberia

Climate change, like Lysenkoism, is much easier to understand than the complexities of real science. This appeals to the public, and also to politicians and other influential people, who can talk as if they understand it. If questioned about details, they simply refer back to the IPCC reports.

So-called ‘independent reports’ on climate change have been produced by Nicholas Stern in Britain and Ross Garnaut in Australia. Both Stern and Garnaut make it plain that they are not scientists and have based their conclusions on the IPCC reports. Yet, both continue to make public statements warning about the increasing dangers of climate change. This merely keeps their reports in the public eye, and echoes the flawed science of IPCC ‘Global Warming’.

At a lower level, without the need for evidence, everything can be blamed on ‘Global Warming’ – droughts, floods, malaria, hurricanes, and even global cooling! The IPCC rhetoric continues, although their predictions have failed to come true, just as Lysenkoism continued when the promised crop-yield increases never arrived. The IPCC forecast ever-increasing temperatures, but average global temperatures have become lower since 1998. They have now put off ‘Global Warming’ for 15 years because some other factors have intervened. The models did not predict this, but such details do not affect ‘the faithful’.

Some scientists sided with ‘Global Warming’ in the early days, and are so committed that they cannot now get off the bandwagon. Others worked for the IPCC, but resigned when they realised how their work was being used, or that real science did not support the claims that were being made. Luckily, we do not have the equivalent of Siberia to deal with these scientists.

‘The Global Warming Affair’ has already lasted over twenty years, and many administrative and scientific research centres have sprung up – most of the latter involving computer simulators. Computer simulation has a part to play in science, but it should not replace observation, hypothesis-testing, and falsification. There are now ‘Departments of Climate Change’, for which read ‘Departments of Global Warming Blamed on Anthropogenic Carbon Dioxide’.

A Lesson From History: Parallels With Lysenkoism

We should not forget a basic fact, namely that the one villain of the piece – and the one that is costing billions of dollars – is anthropogenic carbon dioxide. This is the equivalent of ‘vernalisation’ in the Lysenko era.

In summary, the comparisons between Lysenkoism and ‘Global Warming’ can be rehearsed as follows:

1. Work first through political organisations;

2. Claim that the science is settled. There is nothing to debate;

3. Disregard, or deny, all the accumulating evidence that the predictions might be wrong;

4. Demonise the opposition (Mendelian geneticists; ‘Global Warming’ Deniers);

5. Victimise the opposition (execution and exile; loss of jobs or research funds, public and media humiliation);

6. Relate to a current ideology (Stalinism; Environmentalism);

7. Support a vast propaganda machine; and,

8. Create a huge bureaucracy where many people have careers dependent upon ‘the ruling concept’.

The parallel can be seen perfectly in a work by Helena Sheehan(1), who wrote of Lysenkoism:

“What went wrong was that the proper procedures for coming to terms with such complex issues were short-circuited by grasping for easy slogans and simplistic solutions and imposing them by administrative fiat.”

Lysenkoism was eventually replaced by real science. The same will happen to ‘Global Warming’, because real science will not go away. _____________

(1) Helena Sheehan, 1993. Marxism and the Philosophy of Science: A Critical History. (Humanities Press International, Inc.).

Further Reading: Paul Reiter, 2004. ‘Passion and politics cloud the climate debate.’ (Nature 431, 739, October 14, 2004|doi:10.1038/431739c).

John Cook: Skeptical Science Is Unsuccessful and Counterproductive

You know things are going down the drain when an English Major interviews a Cartoonist to talk about psychology and the identification of scientific “myths”.

The level of absolute idiocy is reached of course when the owner of a website purportedly debunking 173 climate change “myths” and well-known for its unethical treatment of non-compliant commenters writes:

Debunks that offered three arguments, for example, are more successful in reducing the influence of misinformation, compared to debunks that offered twelve arguments which ended up reinforcing the myth.

and

Avoid dramatic language and derogatory comments that alienate people. Stick to the facts.

Who knows, John Cook might one day read his “Debunking Handbook” and ditch Skeptical Science completely.

NOTE TO ALL READERS: About Climate Or Anything Else, Don't Let Up On The Bully

NOTE TO ALL READERS

If you see strange trackbacks on websites from “Ocasapiens” in Italian after I post a comment, there is this feckless Italian journalist whose main activity appears to be following me on Google in order to post abysmal bullying attempts at her blog.

I would feel proud of being an inspiration of anything, however if a blog is measured by the quality of its content, a blog where I am the content can’t be that good.

On The Slow, Painful (and Deadly) Demise Of The IPCC

Climategate 2.0 is helping filling some knowledge gaps, for example in the way the IPCC has been slowing killing itself, and several thousands humans to. The following concerns Regional Projections, and it’s a tragedy of communication.

Willingly or not, the IPCC has become a source of deadly confusion exactly because it has provided the information its audience wanted, even if it was scientifically unprepared to prepare that information.

Continue reading

When A Miracle Had Just Happened

There are 47 instance of “miracle” in Climategate 2.0. One of them, from Andre Bijkerk, “miracle cures”.

The other 46 are all identical:

“The Miracle Workers” by Jack Vance

They all belong to the signature of single person, a Dr Rob Wilson of Endinburgh University:

Dr. Rob Wilson
Lecturer in Physical Geography
School of Geography & Geosciences
University of St Andrews
St Andrews. FIFE[…]

“…..I have wondered about trees.

They are sensitive to light, to moisture, to wind, to pressure.
Sensitivity implies sensation. Might a man feel into the soul of a tree
for these sensations? If a tree were capable of awareness, this faculty
might prove useful. ”

“The Miracle Workers” by Jack Vance
—————————————–

Note how apt the poem for anybody working in dendrochronology.

0435: Briffa: Pathetic GRL Hockey Stick Paper A Step Backwards In Time And Understanding

Briffa speaks out about the “Pathetic Paper“, with the added bonus of Edward Cook’s thoughts about multi-century temperature reconstructions:

cc: t.osbor
date: Wed Sep 3 14:00:06 2003
from: Keith Briffa
subject: Re: An idea to pass by you
to: Edward Cook

[…] The basic point is that I (and I think [Tim Osborn]) agree that Mike and Phil’s latest contribution is a step backwards ( in time and understanding ) – well in reality I do not believe it is a step forward.

At 08:32 AM 9/3/03 -0400, [Edward Cook] wrote:

[…] I am afraid the Mike and Phil are too personally invested in things now (i.e. the 2003 GRL paper that is probably the worst paper Phil has ever been involved in – Bradley hates it as well) […] Without trying to prejudice [a newly proposed] work, but also because of what I almost think I know to be the case, the results of this study will show that we can probably say a fair bit about < 100 year extra-tropical NH temperature variability (at least as far as we believe the proxy estimates), but honestly know fuck-all about what the > 100 year variability was like with any certainty (i.e. we know with certainty that we know fuck-all)..

Climategate 2.0: Very Much Focused On Phil Jones

By using a clever UNIX trick (and a slight Mac OS X correction) I have counted the occurrences of all words in every non-encrypted “Climategate 2.0″ email, then sorted them in descending order and removed the non-specific words such as “the”, “a”, etc, with some interesting results.

For example Phil Jones steals the show (the word “Jones” is present 12,454 times, and “Phil” 10,030 times). The UEA tops the list with 19,384 mentions, “climate” follows with more than 17,000 mentions, Briffa  appears 7,004 times, Mann “only” 5,971.

Seems clear that whoever did this, is not in friendly terms with Phil Jones. Perhaps they have left mostly non-Jones messages among the 200k encrypted ones.

Enjoy!

Total: 19,939,376

19384 uea
17079 climate
15357 data
12454 jones
10030 phil
8352 research
8176 www
8094 change
7963 fax
7790 http
7667 university
7553 time
7464 series
7004 briffa
6772 temperature
6741 am
6671 think
6589 email
6421 global
6265 keith
5971 mann
5007 science
4997 know
4994 please
4848 environmental
4788 cc
4764 model
4698 ipcc
4550 information
4538 mike
4511 cru
4349 sciences
4286 changes
4258 climatic
4101 osborn
3959 comments
3610 tree
3491 warming
3426 mean
3343 tom
3325 professor
3270 david
3011 ucar
2956 michael
2807 earth
2567 models
2555 hulme
2479 john
2462 regional
2334 virginia
2332 arizona
2326 temperatures
2299 cje
2285 reconstruction
2272 effect
2224 record
2214 analysis
2207 reconstructions
2200 issues
2082 metoffice
2032 surface
2028 peter
1994 telephone
1913 nature
1904 energy
1902 world
1756 scientific
1615 jonathan
1595 carbon
1217 international
1175 scientists
1165 article
1163 simulations
1149 santer
1144 jansen
1133 hegerl
1133 impacts
1060 greenhouse
1034 weather
1010 simulation

I Am Somebody!! Got A Mention In Climategate 2.0!! – 0701.txt

This has been quite a night and I’ll conclude it with two bangs. First of all, I’ve been blocked on Twitter by @MichaelEMann. T-shirts and celebratory jacket to follow.

I was wondering though, why would somebody like Mann go through the trouble of blocking an unimportant minion like me? Well, I wonder no more. I am somebody in climate circles. Finally!!

Why? Because my name appears in Climategate 2.0. From 0701.txt:

Cc: Maurizio Morabito

I shall soon start collecting cheques in exchange of autographs.

By the way…much of 0701.txt is Phil Jones arguing that, even if it is possible to relate temperature changes to changes in climate indices better than to climate models, still that means nothing:

“It is quite easy to take any temperature series and show that it can be related to circulation indices. Just because the circulation explains more variability than the climate models doesn’t mean that anthropogenic climate change isn’t happening. What is causing the circulation to change!”

Lucky us, the Good Prof showed his usual irony.

For the record, the paper mentioned in 0701.txt was recommended publication by the reviewers, and then binned at the last moment by the Nature Geoscience editors.

A Truly Climategate Pathetic Paper

<3373> Bradley:

I’m sure you agree–the Mann/Jones GRL paper was truly pathetic and should never have been published. I don’t want to be associated with that 2000 year “reconstruction”.

And here it is: “Global surface temperatures over the past two millennia” aka “Mann, M. E., and P. D. Jones, Global surface temperatures over the past two millennia, Geophys. Res. Lett., 30(15), 1820, doi:10.1029/2003GL017814, 2003.”

We present reconstructions of Northern and Southern Hemisphere mean surface temperature over the past two millennia based on high-resolution ‘proxy’ temperature data which retain millennial-scale variability. These reconstructions indicate that late 20th century warmth is unprecedented for at least roughly the past two millennia for the Northern Hemisphere. Conclusions for the Southern Hemisphere and global mean temperature are limited by the sparseness of available proxy data in the Southern Hemisphere at present.

[…]

Reconstructions of hemispheric mean temperatures over roughly the past two millennia employing proxy surface temperature data networks with sufficient spatial and seasonal sampling, temporal resolution, and retention of millennial-scale variance, support previous conclusions with regard to the anomalous nature of late 20th century temperature at least about two millennia back in time for the Northern Hemisphere. To the extent that a ‘Medieval’ interval of moderately warmer conditions can be defined from about AD 800– 1400, any hemispheric warmth during that interval is dwarfed in magnitude by late 20th century warmth. The sparseness of the available proxy data in the Southern Hemisphere lead to less definitive conclusions for the SH or global mean temperature at present.

QED.

Live Microblogging Of Launch Event For “Poles Apart: the International Reporting of Climate Scepticism”

This is an ordered version of my live microblogging (Twitter – @mmorabito67) of the Launch Event of the RISJ publication “Poles Apart: the International Reporting of Climate Scepticism” (British Council, London, November 10, 2011):

  1. At The British Council for the launch of “Poles Apart:the International Reporting of Climate Scepticism” by J Painter
  2. Due to start at 6pm, slightly late. No @BBCRichardBlack
  3. Benny Peiser is here. I’ve said hello to chair John Lloyd, had met him years ago in Oxford
  4. Finally it starts. Delay was all the fault of video-linked @Revkin :)
  5. Lloyd : report is unique. Climate change important. IEA says today that door is closing
  6. Video link not perfect. Painter says he’ll be brief
  7. Painter : “summoned by science” published 1 yr ago. Found difference in skepticism.
  8. Painter: people confused about different types of skepticism.
  9. Painter keeps mentioning academic research they wanted to complement
  10. “Is climate skepticism an Anglo Saxon thing”?
  11. Two newspapers per country, left and right leaning but not in China
  12. Focus on 2007 wg1 and wg2 IPCC publication time and Copenhagen time
  13. Shows increase in skeptical voices in US and UK around Copenhagen
  14. “What explains country differences? ” interviews suggest factors
  15. Media and extramedia factors (listed in report)
  16. India – CC as a nationalistic point
  17. Brazil- very large coverage. Journalists said strong science.units in newspapers
  18. Lalaland time
  19. Climategate moved some.uk newspapers away from the others
  20. Lots more analysis for the UK – skeptical voices more in right leaning newspapers
  21. Explanatory factors -.in the report again
  22. . @Revkin frozen in time. Video still imperfect.
  23. Rebecca Nadin talks about China. She’s been there for years to work on climate change
  24. Complex diagram showing interactions in China.
  25. Says mostly discussion is not about AGW vs natural
  26. Chinese government has strong position about AGW. It’s not politically contentious
  27. Over 2200 newspapers and many social media networks
  28. Very limited debate about integrity of climate scientists and no much nimbyism
  29. Pollution concerns very high.
  30. Core group at Beijing uni and academy of sciences debating speed and severity
  31. Mentions agriculture body saying production in inner Mongolia will increase
  32. Immediately adds a however
  33. Some.skeptics depicted as nationalistic nutters
  34. Sciama; starts.with Allegre and another skeptif
  35. . @Revkin alive again
  36. They’re using Webex not Skype
  37. French revolution replacing aristocracy with meritocracy and support for science
  38. Laments lack of skepticism in France?
  39. No coal lobby in France
  40. France is very centralized so importance of State intervention high
  41. He’s explaining belief in AGW in France in purely non-scientific terms!!!
  42. Ends saying opposition to.State.may.make climate policies impossible in uk and USA
  43. Revkin : report.defines skepticism others didn’t
  44. Skepticism and support are variegated
  45. Mentions Inhofe giving floor speech saying hoax is about catastrophe of global warming
  46. USA exceptional for many reasons. More fuel consumption and many climates
  47. Public discourse always degenerates in.shouting matches
  48. Policy debates are legitimate @Revkin
  49. Bob Ward laments the GWPF – skeptic voices given opinion pieces
  50. Revkin mentions Delingpole as selective and duplicitous. Liberal opinion makers in USA stretching “but”.
  51. Lloyd : ft not into entertainment. Penchant for combat eg debating societies
  52. Tom of ecologist magazine asks about treatment of skeptics in TV media
  53. Revkin talks of study about fox news. Pretty clear which way they lean.
  54. Networks fairly “progressive” on climate change
  55. Benny Peiser : report is comprehensive and balanced. Definition of skepticism but gwpf skeptical of policy
  56. Thanks Bob ward for the hits
  57. Gwpf focus not on science rather government approach so more media coverage
  58. Revkin says Peiser is.right problem is policies leftists is USA did.disservice making AGW a single sentence
  59. World will end soon
  60. Blogger mentions criticism of NYT by Romm.
  61. Another q: science cannot settle debates
  62. Phone rings at the Revkins
  63. Part of the news.process means being wrong.some of the time Joe Romm is.never wrong – laughs
  64. Painter talks of think tanks bloggers tradition of questioning the.science
  65. Revkin : even without fuel lobby there’d be not much action
  66. Difficult to.change as.fossil fuels still.cheap -.forces of.stasis.have an easy task
  67. Left.journalism to work on fostering innovation
  68. Meeting now of climate scientists about ozone.treaty
  69. . @Revkin gone.
  70. Online media amplifying skeptical coverage?
  71. Empirical evidence of coverage online depending on generating traffic
  72. Blogospheric.pressure in France? New.phenomenon
  73. People outspoken to generate traffic? Not in France
  74. Chinese blogosphere? Environment not.global warming
  75. Water pollution more meaningful to people’s life
  76. Rapley – skeptics talk of uncertainties to prevent action. Risk assessment?
  77. Painter : haven’t looked at framing. Quantitative analysis
  78. Should understand what kind of skeptics “we’re talking about”
  79. Climategate emboldened the daily express in mentioning skeptical voices
  80. More.questions showing French reaction not as in uk
  81. Elite debate in France for.years.
  82. Steve.Jones of bbc report fame. Says typical reporting strives for balance
  83. Media.don’t understand debate in.science?
  84. Due impartialityis important according to Painter
  85. Lloyd bbc criticized for having expoused. Climate change not easy for the bbc
  86. I asked.about need for academic findings so.report isn’t much good.
  87. Another q: more people.haved moved away from extremes.
  88. Another q: media lacking about political economy of climate change
  89. Not many people talk of policy?
  90. Nadin: change in degree of skepticism yes in China. Debate on adaptation.
  91. Talks of “climate change” forcing people to.relocate
  92. Sciama: science journalist talking science. (Maybe that’s problem?)
  93. Shift in position towards warming but natural
  94. More worried about disappeared climate reporting than space given to skeptical voices
  95. Datasets are academic conclusions less so

Orwell Explains Simon Singh (And Other Intellectual Bankruptcies)

It’s been a source of constant surprise the fact that Simon Singh, “a British author who has specialised in writing about mathematical and scientific topics in an accessible manner” would be willing to tell Wired wholly antiscientific statements such as in response to a question “How are we supposed to know what’s true?“:

Don’t come up with a view, find everybody who agrees with it, and then say, “Look at this, I must be right.” Start off by saying, “Who do I trust?” On global warming, for example, I happen to trust climate experts, world academies of science, Nobel laureates, and certain science journalists. You have to decide who you trust before you decide what to believe.

Throwing oneself into the hands of the experts? That’s a total abdication from reason, an open-armed welcome to complete foolishness as a tool for scientific debate, and a justification for chiropractors if they had any working brain cell left. It’s the “death of knowledge“, as pointed out by Karl Popper in “The Myth of Framework” (already mentioned here by Nicholas Hallam Mar 31, 2011 at 2:43 PM):

[…] in my view, the appeal to the authority of experts should be neither excused nor defended. It should, on the contrary, be recognized for what it is – an intellectual fashion – and it should be attacked by a frank acknowledgement of how little we know, and how much that little is due to people who have worked in many fields at the same time. And it should also be attacked by the recognition that the orthodoxy produced by intellectual fashions, specialization, and the appeal to authorities is the death of knowledge, and that the growth of knowledge depends entirely upon disagreement

Singh repeated the same foolish argument at the Spectator “Global Warming Hysteria” debate(London, March 29 2011), as reported by the Bish:

Simon Singh’s presentation was memorable, but unfortunately mostly for the wrong reasons. He set up what he called a credibility spectrum, with scientists and academies on one side and sceptics on the other and called on us to trust the establishment on the climate change issue. His whole presentation, while outstanding in terms of slick delivery, was an intellectual void, amounting to little more than ten minutes of argument from authority, a point later made by Graham Stringer. It struck me as a little ambitious to even try this sort of fallacious approach to an audience that was likely to be both hostile and well informed on climate science itself. As catcalls of “what about the hockey stick?” rang out, it was clear that many people knew exactly what has been happening. Asking these same people to trust the word of the scientists struck me as a foolish mistake.

It’s a point made also by Fraser Nelson:

the argument “trust the experts” is becoming less persuasive as the information revolution progresses. Hierarchies are being flattened in every walk of life, and this includes intellectual hierarchies. As Mark Penn says, elites are more impressionable than the masses — so more likely to be persuaded by a scientific consensus. The public want to be persuaded, not told that they should believe the Clever People.

Fraser goes on to describe Singh’s foolishness number two, the complete misunderstanding of the debating point:

Simon Singh […] seems to be anxious to have a ding-dong with someone who doesn’t think the planet is warming and that mankind is, at least in part, responsible. I’m afraid I can’t help. My problem is with the political response to the science.

As for foolishness number 3, well, nothing better than having Singh write a web article about global warming showing zero-to-nothing knowledge of the topic beyond a quick reading of the IPCC and an insane trusting of Skeptical Science.

It’s a catalogue of offenses against thoughthood (sadly, same applies to others who should know better, such as Phil Plait and Bill Nye), a completely irrational behaviour that had been left unexplained. Until now. Note in fact how during the debate, Singh had some sort of slip of the tongue, saying that “the smart money was in Global Warming“, fully justifying James Delingpole’s rebuttal:

Unless Singh can raise his game and actually engage with the argument rather than bullying his opponents with the help of Sleb Twitter pals and his Ipse Dixit logical fallacies, I think we all know who the real muppet is.

However, if we look at it from a different point of view, it had all been described by George Orwell in “James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution” (my emphasis – there’s more to it but I’ll leave that to a different blog):

Power worship blurs political judgement because it leads, almost unavoidably, to the belief that present trends will continue. Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible. […] Within the space of five years Burnham foretold the domination of Russia by Germany and of Germany by Russia. In each case he was obeying the same instinct: the instinct to bow down before the conqueror of the moment, to accept the existing trend as irreversible.

There we have poor Simon Singh then, simply continuing an established tradition among intellectuals. He believes that the pro-AGW lobby is winning, that the IPCC and the Skeptical Science’s of this world are where the “smart money” is: therefore, he “decides” to “trust” them, “decides” to “believe” in them (note the mixing up of science and faith), even roam the world to proclaim his servile, antiscientific, unreasonable stance on the topic.

Just wait until the climate wind changes then, and in 2021 Singh will be out presenting a new book on “Why people wrongly believed in catastrophic climate change“.

Journalists In A Cage, or The Curse Of Climate Change Bias

Bar a sudden epidemic of Damascus Road Conversions, there is no hope for a serious, balanced, informed, informing reporting by mainstream media on the topic of Climate Change. For a series of reasons, not too dissimilar from why politicians cannot go wrong on climate change:

  1. Bad news is the only good news
  2. Journalists can only be as good as the sources they carefully select
  3. Scientific laziness and ignorance leading to dumbing down

1. Bad news is the only good news

Nobody has ever sold any newspaper by printing really good news. Readers are simply disinterested, partly because of the thrill of reading about somebody else’s misfortune, and mostly as a natural way, responding to alerts much more than to the sound of high-five’s. Hence as journalists are only as good as the readership they attract, good news for them are bad and vice-versa.

As a corollary, to mistake newspapers as remotely informative about reality is to open one’s life to doom and gloom. Take a bunch of users of an IT application and they will never ever tell each other how fast that application is: they’ll either say nothing, or complain when the application is slow. Somebody reporting out of their comments might mistakenly become convinced that the application is, on average, slower than it should be, simply because there is no information about it being faster, even when it is faster. And that, independently from the application’s speed. Analogously, a newspaper reader is likely to become just as mistakenly convinced that the world is going pear-shaped, independently from how well the world is doing.

On the other hand, skepticism on climate change means (a) the world is not going pear-shaped, at least in matters of climate and the environment and (b) if there is little to worry about the future, that’s good news.

Combine now these three observations and you’ll find mainstream journalists striving to stay away from any skepticism on climate change (even when it’s skepticism coming from professional scientists), as that would twice undermine their business, and even their professionalism. Climate Chambers skepticism is anti-news. If you want a related example, see what the BBC did when some good news threatened to be coming from Chernobyl.

The BBC did not, could not report the American Scientist article that said things around Chernobyl were better than previously thought: they reported instead, weeks later, the alarmist criticisms against the American Scientist article.

2. Journalists can only be as good as the sources they carefully select

I have experienced this first-hand in the UK with the BBC away from climate change. If you read the BBC, it’s almost impossible to fathom what happens in Italian politics: it all looks like a movie where half of the plot is missing and a great deal of the image is blanked out.

Simply, all BBC reporting about Italy is invariably left-leaning (from an Italian point of view). That’s because the Italians they interview are 99% of the time only Italian journalists writing in leftist newspapers. I remember once months ago there was some time given by BBC Radio4 Today to a recorded statement by an Italian non-leftist MP, drowned by untold number of live radio minutes given to a leftist journalists. Same happens with the Financial Times.

If journalists only keep company with a certain group of people, they will only report what those people tell them. If journalists actively avoid communicating with another group of people, they will never correctly report their point of view. As we’ve seen, mainstream journalists keep skeptics as far away as possible. And as Climategate has shown, they have very friendly relationships with scientists turned activist warmists.

Mainstream science journalists won’t and can’t fathom what climate change skepticism is about, because they can’t listen to skeptics.

3. Scientific laziness and ignorance leading to dumbing down

Journalists have to make sure somebody will read their articles. Scientific journalists of mainstream media find themselves in trouble trying to translate science news in a way that the average reader will find remotely interesting. The right way to do that would be to write great articles in a splendid prose: but that’s a lot of effort, so the common way is the lazy one: dumb down the science content so that it will elicit the most basic of responses in the least interested of the readers.

In other words, transform a scientific topic into something that appeals to the readers’ guts. In the case of climate science, this has meant depicting the whole global warming thing as a struggle between Good and Evil, heroic scientists vs debased skeptics, with the journalist as a biased commentator of some kind of spectator sport. In other words, science transformed into a cheap-and-cretin feuilleton.

Of course this issue is badly compounded by the fact that most scientific journalists have no idea of what making science entails, and often have no science degree at all.

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In conclusion, with no clue on what they are forced to write about in the hope of getting the least likely reader to still read their articles; with communications strictly coming only from a single channel; unable to report good news, ignorant of science and pretending to be commenting football: well, climate change reporters live in a cage of their own making and the real miracle is when any one of them does report anything remotely non-biased on climate change.

ps It’s hard not to notice that even the skeptical journalists, like James Delingpole, have developed their own “bad news” mantra, in the form of Watermelons taking over the world. QED

pps Andy Revkin is not a full-time journalist any longer, so his climate change reporting has progressively improved compared to the past, becoming much less biased. QED again.

Ppps David Whitehouse is no longer a BBC science journalist, more or less since climate change became the Beeb’s mantra. QED number 3.