"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Denialism as an Anxiety Disorder

My wife is a psychologist specializing in obsessive/compulsive disorders. Sometimes she deals with very extreme cases. She is careful not to share names or identifying information with me, but occasionally discusses cases with me on the same basis she might to a roomful of colleagues.

I am struck by the confusion of the cerebral and the visceral in the more extreme cases of OCD, and in that way it reminds me of science denialism. In fact, you could argue that it is exactly the same thing.

A person in the grips of severe OCD will have certain rituals that they perform to avoid certain threats than they have greatly exaggerated in their own minds. An OCD sufferer may, for example, be afraid to touch doorknobs for fear of catching AIDS. Even though it is likely that nobody has ever gotten AIDS from a doorknob, and even though one can get the patient to acknowledge that this is the case, the fear of AIDS-infected doorknobs has been so firmed up in the patient's mind that rational evidence to the contrary will not change the doorknob-avoidant behavior.

The treatment, as I understand it, is threefold. Convincing the patient that doorknob use is less detrimental than doorknob avoidance is necessary but it is not sufficient.

Getting the rational understanding is only the beginning.

The second step is to get the patient to actually touch doorknobs, despite their fear: this is the phase where the rational side stops cowering under a virtual table, stands up, and confronts the irrational.

The third step is to actually calm down about doorknobs through becoming reaccustomed to them, this happens purely at the emotional, limbic level. The cure is never perfect; a person who has been in the grips of such severe emotional gridlock will never be entirely comfortable around doorknobs, but can learn to tolerate the discomfort and act normally around doors.

What strikes me about this, is that there has to be cerebral collaboration in the development of the fear in the first place. After all, typically the person has never been injured by a doorknob and clearly has not contacted AIDS. The fear reaction must have been mediated through a thought process, albeit not a very clear-headed one. It is the sort of thing you might come up with in a dream, an AIDS-vector doorknob, not something you would take seriously in the light of day. But you aren't fifteen and unusually anxious. (I hope. If you are, you have my sympathies and best wishes. I've been there myself.)

Irene says the way it works is that the anxiety comes first. Then the cerebrum does what it does, which is to interpret the information it has at hand. It tries to evaluate where the anxiety comes from, and latches onto something random. ("That doorknob I just touched! Could it be contaminated with a disease?") If the attribution is sufficiently satisfactory, ("I know what to do. I'll never touch such a filthy doorknob again!") the cerebral process is reinforced.

Modern society is deeply disturbed. Anxiety prevails everywhere. People want to explain their anxiety and discomfort in the face of unprecedented wealth and comfort, exactly the things they were raised to desire and work for.

Most of us (except those few who still think things are going swimmingly) settle on social and historical forces to blame. Some of us are less sophisticated than others, and develop social theories that are less informed by history, geography, and (dare I say it) biology, chemistry and physics. We develop blame attachments that have something in common with the doorknobs. It's Exxon! It's the United Nations! It's the Gringos! It's the Mexicans! It's Monsanto! It's ACORN! etc. etc.

Look, there is such a thing as a dirty doorknob. I don't think any of the groups mentioned are entirely blameless or harmless. They're just collections of people doing their best to get by, sometimes cutting corners or ignoring their own flaws.

Amazingly, a group that finds physical climatology (the discipline, not the process) a key factor in their conspiracy fantasy is emerging.

Our heads are spinning in trying to deal with this.

Climate science finds itself in an exceedingly awkward position as it is being used as a proxy for the battle between these two increasingly mutually hostile and suspicious tendencies. You constantly see talk among our symparthizers of climate scientists "standing up for the cause". Usually the suggestion is complete nonsense.

The cause of the field, that which unites the members, is simple enough. Climatologists want to be left alone to study the stuff that fascinates us. Many of us want other things, but that is the main cause which unites us.

Unfortunately climatology is obligated to explain the extent to which plausible scenarios over the next few decades could lead to severe consequences. We would like to fulfill this obligation and be left alone after the fact, since most of the work in coping will be done by others (except in case of geoengineering).

The correct thing for society to do is to take our advice into account and develop policies that reasonably account for the risks and costs associated with this circumstance. It becomes a problem in energy engineering, social policy and economics.

But people are terrified of the implications. Capitalism always operates on thin margins and does not like large disruptions. Yet we collectively must impose various large disruptions on ourselves. This feeds into various fears and hostilities, including, in America, the paranoia and racism deployed toward Obama.

So we are being door-knobbed. Significant numbers of people believe ridiculous things about us. The Murdoch press and a few likeminded media stir this up. We become a target of habitual fear and paranoia.

The mainstream press feels compelled to tell "both sides" of the story. Are we a deadly AIDS-infected doorknob, or just an ordinary, imperfect but functional doorknob? The truth must lie somewhere between.

It has gone too far. We're mad as hell, and we're not going to take it anymore. Except we have no clue what to do.

People like Fleck and Yulsman and Revkin tell us our cause is hopeless, that people simply do not make decisions based on evidence, and that so the windmill/jobs program approach is the best we can do. This is perfectly silly advice because it does not actually account for the interests of the scientific community at all. We do not need to argue for emissions cuts. We need to argue for science. Emissions cuts are just a consequence of reason.

Almost every scientist will agree that a carbon policy is much better than no carbon policy, but a carbon policy is not the point of science. The point of science is to discover and report truth, most consequentially in areas where the truth actually matters to the health of civilization.

When an individual has an anxiety disorder, the first thing to do is to work around the anxiety and get the person to acknowledge that their anxieties are dysfunctional.

It seems to me that the first step when soicety has an anxiety disorder is to do the same.

The second thing to do is to get them accustomed to the idea that their behavior will have to change. Eventually some healing can happen.

The journalists and PR folk are right that conveying the state of science is insufficient in getting political support for a sound policy, but I am convinced that they are absolutely and demonstrably wrong that it is unnecessary. If we are to behave rationally as a global collective, we sort of have to have some respect for the information that we need to apply our reason to.

The problem is that people grew up in a world where there was no global collective, and the idea threatens them. The fact that practically any reasonable reading of the implications of climatology presents a very clear case for the necessity of global governance connects that fear and hostility to a science.

Those who give us this advice to let it slide, that facts are not relevant, misconstrue our jobs as much as do the people who have the irrational hostility. This tragicomic "climategate" farce illuminates the problem, once you see past the pathetic behavior of the press.

The first step in treating an anxiety disorder is to convince people that their anxieties are irrational and dysfunctional. It's not enough. But that is the only place we can start.

Update: I am NOT saying that everyone who propagates denialism is actually paranoid; some are ideological difference-splitters who simply cannot believe that the truth might not lie in "the middle" of the extremes they perceive. A few are simply psychopathic, though I think that most psychopaths tend to find other games to play.

Of course, the main problem is that they are wrong. The point here is that they can make the case by appealing to visceral as opposed to rational responses in the public.

In this view the Murdoch press et al have been functioning to make people upset and paranoid. Even if it isn't entirely deliberate, that is how it is working. This is, of course, the opposite of helping. If the real purpose is just to sell newspapers, the psychopathology of it all is mind-boggling.

What I add here is perhaps some new insight into why it has been so easy to trick people (and so easy for people to trick themselves) and why it will be so difficult to set enough of them straight.

Our friends, especially the habitual difference-splitters in the press, tell us that we cannot realistically overcome this gap; that climate is now irrevocably a partisan issue and that people's positions are irrevocably set by culture rather than reason. I think there is a chance that the advice is right. If so, the PR disasters of the past few months may reverberate for millenia. How tragic and how absurd!

I think we have no choice but to try. If we can't do it soon, that doesn't mean we can stop trying.

Friday, March 19, 2010

No Amazon Rainforest “Myths” Have Been Debunked

Thanks to Eli for keeping us posted.

Nineteen prominent ecologists and surface process specialists specializing in the Amazon region tell it like it is.

Comments to Eli's romp please.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

reBlog from Manuelg: Manuel "Moe" G.

I found this fascinating quote today:

There is no evidence that humanity likes science or the burden of responsibilities that pay out decades in the future. Humanity does not mind playing with some the end products of both, like consumer electronics or the body of modern medical knowledge, but humanity really doesn't like either science or the responsibility of the very long view.Manuelg, Manuel "Moe" G., Mar 2010

Also trying the Zemanta "reblog" widget on Moe's site for size. It auto-reposts a single paragraph of your choice. Go read the rest of the article; it's germane.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


More on Samanta et al. following up on Loose Cannon in the Press Office? I wrote the following as a comment on the RealClimate article.

The contents of the press release are not remotely supported by the publication.
It is clear that the political process is much more concerned about press releases than about the underlying work. Consider the McLean/de Freitas El Nino paper and its subsequent spin.


The relationship between scientists and their respective press offices is no longer the trifling matter that many scientists would be inclined to expect, if indeed it ever was so.

As matters stand Dr. Samanta or someone claiming to be him (did RC verify it was him?) stands by the press release. This thus becomes less of a process issue; we do not need to establish how this nonsense got past the press office if Samanta is willing to say he approves it. Assuming the attribution is correct, it now becomes Dr. Samanta’s responsibility to defend the argument implied in his comment #27, which is hardly less tendentious than the press release.

The IPCC WG II comment that “up to 40% could react drastically” simply expresses a concern. There is no implication of certainty; indeed it implicitly states that “at least 60% is unlikely to react drastically” which could be taken as reassuring. In any case it would be difficult to refute.

As has been discussed at length in the parent article and the comments, the quoted research does not constitute a refutation of that position in the slightest, but rather is a detailed refutation of the contrary and counterintuitive paper by Aragao Saleska et al (Corrected. Thanks Kooiti Masuda!) that seemed to claim that rain forests love drought. This is a case where you don’t need a weatherman to say which way the wind blows. If tropical rainforests were so fond of drought, they would be growing in dry places. However, Samanta et al did the service of refuting Aragao Saleska.

It is far from obvious how Samanta disputes Rowell or the IPCC. Many of us who have taken a first look at the matter believe that it does not.

A couple of additional points remain to be resolved here. How did a press release which is perfectly attuned to what the doubt merchants might want it to say, and almost perfectly tangential to the actual results of the study, come out of the press office? This, it seems to me, remains a matter for the university to investigate.

Second, it is important to note that if a paper were to come out that actually did refute Rowell 2000, it would not constitute any indication of a flaw in the IPCC process, nor an error in any sense. Questioning the conclusions of IPCC is necessary, else the first report would suffice.

Science progresses. The idea that a refinement or even a reversal on a particular point in the consensus report constitutes evidence that the consensus process is flawed is hopelessly pernicious. It puts science in a perfect bind.

But we need to cross that bridge in cases where the science has actually progressed. The distinction between a one-year drought and a persistent decline in precipitation ought to be obvious to a person working in the field. It is less obvious to the rest of us. If there is a case to be made, it was not made in the peer reviewed publication, but rather only in the press release.

I have not been alone in spending a lot of time worrying over the badly damaged links between science and the press and writing about it. But so far as I know, little has been written about the connection between scientists and the institutional press offices that are supposed to serve scientists. The Samanta et al. story makes it clear that this relationship can’t be taken for granted.

Followup comments to the linked RealClimate story, please.

Please note updates to my prior posting on this matter.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Loose Cannon in the Press Office?

If there are temptations about to misrepresent science, it is the responsibility of scientists to stop them.

Looking at the matter from the point of view of the young career-seeker, apparently there are two career paths for "science writers"; one being science journalism and the other being the "PIO" or "Press Information Officer" for a scientific research institution.

The failures of the first have been crucial to our recent problems, but we should spare a moment to consider the second group. The ongoing fiasco with the development of yet another utterly baseless meme in the denialist canon is described fairly well on RC and on Deltoid. Unfortunately, the press did not have to work very hard to screw up this particular story: the misinterpretation was handed them on a platter by the press office of Boston University, in a release signed by Richard Taffe.

Neither the opening sentence of the release nor the closing three paragraphs are remotely supported by the study. The quotation apparently from Jose Marengo is surely a paraphrase. It seems that Sangram Ganguly, a coauthor, may be responsible for both the bizarre spin and the quotation of Dr. Marengo. Neither Marengo nor the first author Arindam Samanta seem quite aware of how the press is systematically mangling the story of climate science.

On the other hand, Richard Taffe, press officer at Boston University, is another matter. It seems he or Gangully or both must have known they were feeding the denial squad just the sort of red meat they want.

How did he come up with this spin? Is it really in the interests of his host institution? Did the first author even take the slightest notice of this process, never mind approve it?

The press itself accords far too much power to the press offices. As @j_timmer tweets:
PIO's product is being treated as science news by PhysOrg, etc. Public unaware of difference.
which allowed me to track down a couple of relevant and insightful articles which address the power of the press office when wielded in the interest of public information.

The Samanta case, though, is very remeniscent of the McLean et al fiasco, wherein a marginal and unsurprising paper on El Nino was spun into the "death knell of global warming" by some creative post-publication interpretation.

Make no mistake what this means. What this means is that there is a systematic process of turning ordinary science into denialist memes that bears precisely zero relationship to the actual substantive content of the publication.

In the present case a press officer was at least complicit if not responsible.

I don't know anything about the press officer, Richard Taffe. I don't know if he has pulled such stunts in the past. I am willing to presume he is a good neighbor and a stalwart friend and so on. I hate to do anything that might incline to make his life miserable the way so many other people's lives have been made miserable by the toxic environment around climate science these days. Let's just call it a mistake. But someone at BU needs to call Mr. Taffe to account.

Some may be tempted to accuse me of demanding an inquisition of Mr. Taffe for failing to toe the IPCC line. Lest that occur let me point out that I welcome any real evidence that calls IPCC into question, because the advance of truth is what matters.

In the present case, though, the press release demonstrably did not represent the published research in question. Mr. Taffe is entitled to his own extrapolations from the research, of course, as much as is anyone else. He is not, or at least should not be, entitled to present those extrapolations as the product of the scientific effort of his institution.

This event constitutes an institutional failure at the university in question and, likely, a common vulnerability elsewhere.

Update: It now looks like we won't find out how this mess occurred.

The first author, Dr. Mr. Samanta, has (apparently) stepped up on RC to try to dampen the furor. His statement, while woefully unconvincing, makes it unlikely that we'll be able to sort matters out in any detail. It also makes it certain that the denialist camp will continue to misuse the evidence. It still remains an instructive instance of how attacks on the IPCC are habitually spun out of nothing, and also illustrates how far actual scientists in the field are from being engaged in its politics. Unfortunately, Samanta's efforts to protect those around him and keep the controversy at bay will have costs for the world at large.

Here's the statement, copied from RC. I don't know that the authorship is authenticated.

The press release accompanying the GRL article disputed the following IPCC AR4 (2007) claim –

“Up to 40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation; this means that the tropical vegetation, hydrology and climate system in South America could change very rapidly to another steady state, not necessarily producing gradual changes between the current and the future situation (Rowell and Moore, 2000). It is more probable that forests will be replaced by ecosystems that have more resistance to multiple stresses caused by temperature increase, droughts and fires, such as tropical savannas.”

for two reasons: (1) this is presented as the consensus view by quoting Rowell and Moore, 2000. (2) There was more than a slight reduction in precipitation during the third quarter of 2005 and, most of the drought-impacted forest area for which we have uncorrupted satellite greenness data showed no enhanced or reduced greenness levels (third quarter average EVI values) as compared to non-drought years (between 2000 and 2008).

It is only in this context that the material in the press release and the GRL must be understood. We do not dispute any other results related to this theme in these two documents.

Arindam Samanta (on behalf of the authors of the GRL papers).

Update: Keith Kloor asks:
Here’s a fact: university press releases that tout scientific studies are routinely vetted by the principal researcher(s). And that’s the case here, as I confirmed this morning in a phone call with Richard Taffe, who wrote the Boston Universtiy release. So why are Tobis et al playing this disingenuous game of gotcha with the messenger? It strikes me as yet another example of misdirected anger.
Emphasis added.

I respond as follows:

Disingenuous is a bit strong. I was wrong, to some extent and Taffe is off the hook.

The press release is an awful misrepresentation of the import of a more or less sound and ordinary publication. That the PI is backing up the release means that responsibility must be allocated entirely to him.

Had it just been a matter of idly signing off on it without paying attention, the press office would be suspect. I remain inclined to believe that this is what occurred, but Dr. Samanta seems disinclined to admit it, thereby protecting Mr. Taffe.

As a comment on my blog entry shows, their motivations are not to represent the researcher, but to get the university’s work into the press, no matter how represented. Given this, researchers in areas plagued by public controversy cannot take the press office lightly.

Regardless of whether the press release is factual, it is certainly not based upon the publication that it claims to report.

Thus the press office has usurped the function of peer review by innovating scientific assertions without subjecting them to review, assertions which the rest of the press will feel comfortable repeating. If the principal investigator collaborates in this process, (as clearly happened in the McLean/deFreitas paper last fall and seems to have happened here) it does not legitimize it.

I stand by "complicit if not responsible" regarding Mr. Taffe's role. I think, though, that Dr. Samanta has accepted full responsibility and we need to take this up with him.

Update: Eli has a modest suggestion: Proposed outreach, so called "broader outcomes" have become an important part of grant applications and press releases are certainly an outreach.

Require all press releases to be included in any grant renewal request.

Let the reviewers at em.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Update: The point here is that I came across this attitude toward Texas completely at random on an article with little in common with any of the interests of the State Board of Education. If Texas education becomes a running gag on the Internet it will take the state a very long time to undo the damage.

This note is also something of an homage to Neverending Audit.

Friday, March 12, 2010

It's My Planet and I'll Cry if I Want To

A comment spotted on a particularly egregious thread at Pajamas Media:
33. Sven:

Anyone who uses the word “planet” in a non-astronomical sense deserves endless ridicule.


Image: NASA

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Does Science Even Matter?

In an oh-so-reasonable-sounding article on Slate, Daniel Sarewitz argues the contrary of the position I have been taking recently.

My position is first, that science can no longer depend on the press, or the institutional press office, or pop science media to get important messages out. That much has become blazingly obvious. Second, that certain messages of science are necessary to sound governance, that science is a crucial component of collective decision making in modern society. As a conclusion, it is necessary for science participate directly in public communication. It may not be feasible for science, as currently institutionally structured, to do so.

Consequently, to fulfill its responsibilities to society, science as a culture may need to create new institutions, and certainly science needs to create new career paths. This is necessary so that scientific knowledge is appropriately considered in consequential public discourse.

You would think that would be blazingly obvious too, but Sarewitz makes an argument that inclines pretty strongly to the contrary.

Not to put words in his mouth, his thesis is
A dangerous idea has taken hold in modern politics, and the sooner it is discredited, the better. The idea is that political disagreements can be resolved by science. Its basic logic seems sensible: As good children of the Enlightenment, we should turn to science to establish the facts about problems such as climate change before deciding what policies to implement. Yet the types of things that scientists are good at figuring out don't have much to do with the types of things that politicians need to decide.
This starts out as reasonable. Lest I be misunderstood, let me concede that science is insufficient to make the sorts of decisions we need to make. Decisions need to be based on values and preferences, as well as on pragmatism, political tradeoffs and competing goals. Science will never trivialize politics; any such claim is ludicrous. But Sarewitz claims that "the types of things that scientists are good at figuring out don't have much to do with the types of things that politicians need to decide," in other words he claims that science is essentially unnecessary to politics.

This is the sort of dream world that beltway types actually live in. I am, as Dave Barry would say, not making this up.

It is instructive to look at his arguments. First of all, he notes,

The most wonderful illustration of this mismatch between what science can tell us and what politicians care about is the effort to build a long-term storage site for nuclear waste at Nevada's Yucca Mountain. It's probably fair to say that, after 25 years and $13 billion of government-funded research, no area of ground on Earth is more studied than Yucca Mountain, yet all of this science has done absolutely nothing to quell opposition from locals and environmental groups. On the contrary, it provided a continual source of new discoveries and uncertainties that combatants could draw upon to bolster their political and legal cases. For example, varying estimates of the amount of ground water flowing through the rocks at the site were central both to claims that Yucca Mountain was safe and that it should be abandoned.

What makes Yucca Mountain such a political quagmire is not the complexity of the science but the way that Congress rammed Yucca Mountain down Nevada's throat in 1987—an exercise in top-down power politics that provoked profound and unquenchable resentment.
There is spin and there is twist. The above is a horrifying twist on Bill McKibben's observation that
the immense pile of evidence now proving the science of global warming beyond any reasonable doubt is in some ways a great boon for those who would like, for a variety of reasons, to deny that the biggest problem we’ve ever faced is actually a problem at all. Three thousand pages (the length of the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)? That pretty much guarantees you’ll get something wrong.
The issues about Yucca Mountain are indeed instructive.

Those issues are about the tradeoffs between traditional location-based politics and a world of national needs and global consequences. Whether nuclear power is pursued in the future or not, somebody needs to take the waste we already have. Nevada is arguably the right place for it. That paranoia and resentment results within Nevada is, perhaps, inevitable. That the society cannot manage to settle the question with facts and negotiation is not. To celebrate the failure of factual argument and global implications to enact a Yucca Mountain repository or something similar is to do what beltway types so often do; it is to confuse a problem with an insurmountable principle.

The important conclusion to draw is not that a Yucca repository was rammed down anybody's throat. The important conclusion is that for purely cultural, totally nontechnical, nonphysical reasons, we cannot implement a technical, physical solution to a technical, physical problem.

The problem is not that reason fails. The problem is that politics fails to be reasonable.

Blaming reason for the failure of politics is about as backwards as you can get something.

Yet, Sarewitz manages to do so:
When people hold strongly conflicting values, interests, and beliefs, there is not much that science can do to compel action. Indeed, more research and more facts often make a conflict worse by providing support to competing sides in the debate, and by distracting decision-makers and the public from the underlying, political disagreement. In such cases each side will claim to have the scientific high ground.

When it comes to questions like these, political beliefs can map nicely onto different ways of selecting, assembling, and interpreting the science. If you believe that government should intervene in markets to incentivize rapid reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, you can justify your preference with data, theories, and models that predict increases in extreme weather events such as hurricanes, droughts, and floods. And if you believe, as do many conservatives, that government intervention in markets and in social arrangements should be kept to a minimum, you can find factual support for your views in the long-term unpredictability of regional climate behavior, the significant economic and social costs associated with shifting to more expensive energy sources, and the historical failure of government efforts to steer large-scale social and economic change.

In other words, we beltway types, journalists, politicians, lawyers and such, do not have the competence to distinguish realistic arguments based on evidence from trumped-up arguments based on cherry picked evidence . (Indeed, cherry picking is our job description. We come up with a point of view, and troll the internet for supporting facts. For some reason (!), in the past ten years we have gotten quite good at it.)

Consequently, you guys might as well not bother, because we are running the show, and we can't pick the serious thinkers from the ringers to save our lives.

Well, yes, these guys are, for the moment, running the show. And indeed they can't tell science from the most absurd woo-woo. True enough.

Somehow the conclusion that we might as well not bother is not the one I reach from that.

Update: Sarewitz had a far less irritating piece at Nature a few days ago. Tom Yulsman and RP Jr have already had their say on that one. The point on the politicization of science is a real concern. But the Slate article takes it much too far.

Update: Fleck defends Sarewitz. And again.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Other Food Pyramid

From Good Medicine Magazine:

Only on topic for this blog because it raises the perennial question: "Why is democracy so stupid?"

Go Ahead, Act Like a Scientist

Being a scientist is not a putdown. How strange, in these years of the revenge of the nerds, this time of huge respect for engineers and programmers, that scientists are urged to be ashamed of ourselves.

Today, Revkin says
The more I talk to social scientists and psychologists about humanity’s growing pains in its current population and appetite surge, the more it’s clear that the “market failures” described by economists examining environmental issues derive from fundamental patterns of behavior rooted deep in the brain.
Right. So, what grownups do, in circumstances like that, is exert cognitive pressure from the frontal lobe to overcome atavistic appetites. This means that the reason to stop emitting carbon is because we have way too much carbon sitting around loose already, not because there will be an economic boom from making windmills.

Speaking as a boomer, the self-indulgence of the boomer generation was curative of a very restrained and fear-driven generation that came before us. We called them "uptight". But we sold the society on emotional fulfillment at the expense of responsibility. We did too good a job of curing what ailed us.

If we don't revisit the notion of collective responsibility and sobriety soon, our descendants will pay a heavy price. The people to lead the way to restoring this balance would be scientists acting very much like scientists do.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Long Strange Trip

It's been a little less than three years since I started discussing the failures of climate communication on this blog. In that time, it has gone from an obscure obsession of my own to the front pages of newspapers around the world.

It's been about a year and three weeks since I moved from being exasperated about how the press has been handling climate science to being genuinely angry. It's been about a year and a week since my anger landed me fifteen minutes of fame on the Glenn Beck show.

So it was about a year ago that I came to understand that truth had enemies. Others have been investigating the details of how the enemies of truth corrupted the conversation. I for one find that particular topic of less interest - the fact that the conversation has been corrupted is clear, and the underlying methods are fairly obvious once one starts to look at it from an informed perspective.

That anniversary is corresponding with a unique moment in the history of climate science, and perhaps an unprecedented moment in the history of science altogether. The entire field is now fed up, and now understands its responsibilities in ways that it has neglected in the past. Whether this will suffice is another matter entirely.

I have personal affection for a few journalists and admiration for many, as I do attorneys and economists, and yet for all three fields I have limited tolerance for their traditions and their ethical outlook. Indeed, attorneys and economists have played their parts in the present absurd flirtation with cataclysm. But, pace Shakespeare, it's the journalists I would be done with first.

See, here is my old pal Andy Revkin up to his old tricks. "Should Scientists Fight Heat or Stick to Data?" A good question. So, whom does he consult? Matt Nisbett and Randy Olsen. I've already professed myself shocked at the shallowness of Nisbett's understanding of the problem. He comes to the table with:

When scientists and advocates, motivated by these biased perceptions, take action by responding with tit-for-tat attacks on climate skeptics, it takes energy and effort away from offering a positive message and engagement campaign that builds public support for climate action and instead feeds a downward spiral of “war” and conflict rhetoric that appears as just more ideological rancor to the wider public.

These positive messages include redefining climate change away from just being an environmental problem, to being a national security, public health and economic problem, with policies that would lead to societal benefits in these areas rather than just perceived economic sacrifice, hardship, and costs. The recent Luntz report provides evidence in support of this message strategy.

Um, 'scuse me? Scientists do not offer positive messages, campaigns, or appeals to public support. That isn't our job, y'know. Scientists offer evidence. Now he goes on to say
Moreover, when scientists inaccurately presume that climate skeptics have singlehandedly swung polls in the direction of public disbelief — and then adopt a warfare posture and “fighting back” strategy against skeptics — they call further media attention to the original “ClimateGate” event and feed the preferred narrative of skeptics.
which may look like good advice, but see, four months ago we had every expectation of ignoring the whole thing, except perhaps for supporting Dr Jones, the immediate victim of the crime. (Yeah, there was a crime, remember?) So Nisbett offers advice for a more reasonable world than the one we find ourselves in.

On the other hand, Randy Olson gets it the other way round.
What [Nisbett has] written here is great, it’s accurate, it’s admirably dispassionate, but it’s also written with the assumption that the general public is a bunch of heartless robots. There comes a point where the public DOES want to see the science community stand up for themselves.
and there I agree with him, but again there's this odd disconnect with reality as any person educated in science would see things:
Gore is ultimately “a scientist” when it comes to communication instincts. You can see it played out in his movie and two books as he’s slowly come to the realization that you need something more than information to reach the masses.
Um, wasn't the problem with Gore's movie that it was a bit shallow and manipulative? That certainly is my problem with his recent campaigns. So here we have contrary advice, accepting the idea that scientists are involved in "campaigns" but suggesting we had better get emotional. Olson, remember, wrote Don't be Such a Scientist, which advises us to ignore matters of substance. Fine, and policemen should ignore the law and firemen shouldn't be so hung up on combustion.

In case you think there's not really a pattern here, check out Revkin's latest, wherein Tom Yulsman makes some sensible observations, like this one:

Some of it also reflects what I take to be a truly breathtaking naïveté. For example, George Woodwell says this: “If the opposition opens an issue, make the issue theirs, and so hot that they have to let go.”

As if a group of climate scientists can make it “hot” enough to force the likes of Marc Morano to let go. Even if they could, they’d basically be turning themselves into Morano. And a lot of good that would do for their standing in the eyes of the public. (Moreover, any scientist who thinks he or she can beat Morano at his own game is in for a very rude awakening.)

but concludes thus:

We’ve had more than 20 years of communication of climate science. … And thanks in part to Web 2.0, today there is more varied and voluminous communication on the subject than ever before, including some very effective efforts by scientists. Yet with all of that communication about climate science, we still do not have substantial policy action. So might it be that the problem has not been a failure of a communication, but a failure of policy?

Please don’t get me wrong: I’m all for more and improved communication of climate science, both by scientists and journalists. But I do not believe this is the key that will unlock better policy outcomes.

So the fact that the public has the story drastically wrong is not the fault of how the story has been communicated? Exactly whose fault is it then?

And now, people are advising scientists to take the advice of "PR professionals". Well, I am pretty much unconvinced.

So where does this leave us? Basically, deeply confused. We really are left to our own devices and our own ethics. The fact is that the message nature tells science is clear enough, and the message science tells society is monstrously garbled, largely by the intervention of malicious agents with political skills, and somewhat by the peculiar ethics of intervening institutions, notably politics including political activism, law, economics and journalism. The beltway professions, in short.

These are people who believe in culture, and disdain physics. They may, in unguarded moments, refuse to cross the street in front of a speeding truck, displaying that they still maintian some respect for physical reality, but they have little concept of physical reasoning. While there are a few important exceptions, in theior professional lives they understand and convey the problems of physics, chemistry and biology as aspects of human culture. Consequently, the connection between genuine experts and interested amateurs is mediated by people who understand neither, and the opportunity to stir up massive distrust is greatly enhanced.

The solution is for trained scientists to learn to write, not for journalists to learn to explain science. They are culturally misaligned. They do not report the facts. They report people's opinions about the facts. But the physical world is not swayed by clusters of opinion.

It is time to reinvent journalism altogether. This is well known. Steven B Johnson cogently argues that each journalistic niche will have to develop its own institutions and way of doing business.

And here is the secret sauce:

Science journalism in the future will mostly be conducted by scientists.

I plan to participate vigorously.

Blogging is good but blogging is not enough. The best conclusion I can offer is what Dr Andrew Sun said on nature.com last year in the consequential month of March:

Scientists deal with only hypothesis, by means of experiments. We live with hypothesis, with uncertainty, with the unknown. The public do exactly the opposite. How would you expect the readers be pleased with a science news that fails to confirm or ensure anything for them?

No one is really interested in science except scientists. Modern society is only trying to eliminate this hopeless situation by creating additional interesting by-products of science. But improvement from this situation should not start from trying to present in any way the ongoing frontier research. Steps should be followed instead. A systematic, long-run agenda is needed. Unfortunately, no media dedicates itself in this career. They sell themselves to the readers, not just us. Why should they listen to only us instead of the majority of the readers? The majority of taxpayers, not the professional minority, lead the society, especially in the more democratic western world. That's why scientists have no reason to blame others. Instead, they should stand outside their comfortable, automatic justice of peer-reviewed community and face the vast majority of public by themselves. Otherwise more shits happen.



George Woodwell, Director Emeritus and Senior Scientist at Woods Hole Research Center (corrected, thanks TB):
The response to the [email] vandals is to bury them with the data and experience of a century of scholarly research and analysis. The information that is important in making the decisions as to how to manage our world is unequivocal and must be advanced, not as questions at the edge of scientific knowledge where scientist like to dwell, but as the facts that they are, facts as immutable as the law of gravity. The climatic disruption is not a theory open to a belief system any more than the solar system is a theory, or gravity, or the oceanic tides, or evolution. This approach is uncompromising, partisan in the sense of selected for the purpose. It is not a lecture to undergraduates; nor is it ecology 101. It is a clear statement of what is required for government to do its job in protecting the public welfare. The scientific community has a firm responsibility in this realm now. This is not the time to wring our hands over the challenges to hyper-scientific objectivity, the purity of scholars, and to tie ourselves in knots with apologies for alleged errors of trifling import.
This is Joe's exclusive, so click on over to Climate Progress for the rest of the message. Comments to CP please.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Texas Pride

I am immensely proud of the Texas climate science community today, and particularly of my young boss at the Institute for Geophysics, Charles S. Jackson, who helped lead the charge to get this clear, forthright, substantive and substantively article into the Houston Chronicle today, along with first author Andrew Dessler, professor of atmospheric sciences, Texas A&M University; Katharine Hayhoe, research associate professor of atmospheric sciences, Texas Tech University; Gerry North, distinguished professor of atmospheric sciences, Texas A&M University; André Droxler, professor of earth science and director of the Center for the Study of Environment and Society, Rice University; and Rong Fu, professor, Jackson School of Geosciences, The University of Texas at Austin.

In summary, the article asserts:
• • The global climate is changing.
• • Human activities produce heat-trapping gases.
• • Heat-trapping gases are very likely responsible for most of the warming observed over the past half century. No one has been able to propose a credible alternative.
• • The higher the levels of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere, the higher the risk of potentially dangerous consequences for humans and our environment.
Emphasis added.

The entire faculty of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M as well as the Climate System Science group at the University of Texas have issued their own statements endorsing these views (atmo.tamu.edu/weather-and-climate/climate-change-statement; www.ig.utexas.edu/jsg/css/statement.html). In fact, to the best of our knowledge, there are no climate scientists in Texas who disagree with the mainstream view of climate science.
These are strange times indeed, but the article is something we in Texas can take pride in.

The only sad part is that this totally factual article is published as an "opinion" piece.

Still, as Brad Johnson has pointed out, this is exactly the sort of thing climate scientists ought to be doing. I'm almost giddy with delight that it's Texans who have the gumption to show the way.

Monbiot's paradox

Quoth George Monbiot here, with a tip of the ol' Stetson to Brian Dupuis of Alberta:
Arthur C Clarke remarked that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. He might have added that any sufficiently advanced expertise is indistinguishable from gobbledegook. Scientific specialisation is now so extreme that even people studying neighbouring subjects within the same discipline can no longer understand each other. The detail of modern science is incomprehensible to almost everyone, which means that we have to take what scientists say on trust. Yet science tells us to trust nothing; to believe only what can be demonstrated. This contradiction is fatal to public confidence.
There are lots of other interesting observations in the remarkable piece linked above, but this one is something of a revelation.

pic: George Monbiot by George Monbiot via Wikipedia, Creative Commons.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Why the Press Can't Remind Us

The English language press has become incapable of expressing the benefits of civilization.

David Rothkopf in Foreign Policy:
The media's obsession with daily polls and who's in and who's out and the cage match aspects of politics, has also unsurprisingly made it impossible (in a time of shrinking news department resources) to cover what should be covered. When was the last time you saw an in-depth thoughtful analysis of what's going on in the Office of Management and Budget or how funds were actually being spent or where the waste is in defense appropriations or what was actually working for students in schools? How about, say, a follow-up on how U.S. aid efforts were working in Haiti or the Middle East? Want a good example of the importance of the mundane stories? Chile just suffered an earthquake 500 times more fierce than that felt in Haiti. But the devastation in Chile, however epic in scale, has cost a fraction of a fraction as many lives because Chile put into place some fairly basic building codes. Who talks about building codes on the nightly news? No one. How could they possibly hold up in comparison to the political dogfighting that makes it look like Michael Vick is the Commissioner of American Politics?

To be fair, I have heard this topic addressed, but the press seems to be saying it's because Chile is wealthier than Haiti. Surely that figures in, but it misses the point.

The relatively more modest disaster in Chile happened because Chile has a more effective regulatory structure than Haiti. Government, like insurance when it works, is a cost when things are going well and a benefit when things are going badly. It takes the dramatic edge off of life. It adds some overhead when there is no earthquake, but it saves your rear when there is an earthquake.

As a consequence of such nuisances of government, there is less fear and desperation, less violence, less corruption endemic to the well-governed society. Life becomes better, even for the rich, when the poor are not desperate.

It is the press's job to explain this. It's too bad they have almost completely forgotten it themselves.

Another interesting piece, which appears today in Newsweek (of all places!) by Rana Foroohar and Mac Margolis, about the burgeoning middle class in the developing world, is a good counterexample. But it is one that amplifies the point about the feedback loop between security and civilization:
Close to 30 percent of Brazil's new middle class owes its livelihood to the informal market, where income is irregular, safety nets are nonexistent, and opportunity for entrepreneurship is limited. Many have borrowed their way to higher living standards, one reason perhaps that 53 percent say they live in fear of unemployment, loss of income, or even bankruptcy. They have benefited from the explosion of private schools but have seen the overall quality of education plummet, eroding one of the classic middle-class paths to social mobility. "We still don't know how sustainable the rise of the new middle classes will be," says Brazilian political scientist Amaury de Souza. And to the extent that the new middle class is precarious, its ability to effect political change will be, too. Indeed, some development economists argue that the poor will be a greater force for social change. There is no middle-class parallel to the broad push for land reform among rural leaders in China. They are the agitators, unwedded to the status quo. The developing world's new consumers may have unleashed tremendous new energy at the checkout counter. But their ability to become a force for better government, greater freedoms, less corruption, and more economic liberty is much less certain. "They" have a very long way to go before becoming "us."
A longer way, it seems, than "we" have before becoming "them".

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

They Got Nothin'

So they show up and say stuff like "Ignoring your continuing efforts to promote the "nothing to see here, move along" thing, and "your petulant turning on the media for having found a vague hint of balanced reporting, finally..." and
To be honest, given all that has poured out on WattsUpWithThat, the Bishop Hill Blog, Climate Audit,and others detailing what must now number in hundreds of problems that riddle AR4, it's not a good use of my time to get into extended arguments over this on any blog, much less one where I'm invariably responding to many people at once, and having to ignore endless snide remarks. I'll leave it to others with more time on their hands to compile all the glitches of AR4, and all the details of misbehavior revealed by the CRU leak."
Well, what's somebody to do who actually knows climate scientists, and while not thinking them saintly or infallible, is pretty confident that the IPCC position, especially the part justifiably called "climate science", is pretty far from an extreme interpretation of the evidence.

Given prior knowledge of this as direct personal experience, it is impossible to take what the press and the critics are doing seriously either as an intellectual or ethical
challenge. All that is left for those of us who have been part of the process is to see it as political shenanigans, and of a quite unsavory sort.

Of course, those who do not have that experience may need to consider the competing theory, that there is a vast conspiracy of evil windmill mongers who have somehow taken over all the world's science academies. This is not a scientific theory and can't really be argued on the basis of scientific evidence. Nor does it need to be. The science itself stands as reported in the WGI reports. Anyone interested is welcome to have a look. And of course, there are multiple FAQs all over the web to deal with the various misdirections and half-truths that they are so pleased to bring to the table.

But what all has "poured out" of the likes of Watts Up? Our visitor does not deign to tell us. Should we be suffering the agony of trying to sort out the many fictions and half-truths on these questions which are not really about science or evidence but just about behavior?

After all, the story seems to be these are bad people and they are central to the IPCC, therefore Not the IPCC, therefore the temperature sensitivity is zero, party on!

Well, how we get from not the IPCC to a sensitivity of zero is not all that clear, but surely if dishonesty is endemic to the whole enterprise, there needs to be some reconsideration of the prospect that the sensitivity might actually be, reliably, near enough zero.

So before we get back to the big big picture, let's consider the actual evidence at hand.

Fortunately, somebody has been willing to collate the main issues, to wit, one Mark Landsbaum at the Orange County Register, in his originally titled essay "What to say to a global warming alarmist". Unlike our innuendo-slinging visitor, Mr. Landsbaum is willing to catalog the sins of the climate science community.

Now, given his list, we can start to examine how many, if any of them, actually are scandalous in the slightest. So let's go over it and see what, if anything, conceivably reflects specifically on climate science.

(Update: Please note, by "climate science" above I mean specifically the physical science, that is, the aspects of the earth system covered by the IPCC WG I reports. Thanks to Kooiti Masuda for requesting the clarification.)

Martin Parry, WGII chair, quoted on Klimazwiebel

ClimateGate – This scandal began the latest round of revelations when thousands of leaked documents

stolen documents

from Britain's East Anglia Climate Research Unit showed systematic suppression and discrediting of climate skeptics' views

frustration about bad work passing peer review, notably a paper which led to the resignation of several editors including noted non-alarmist Hans von Storch

Note also that much context is missing
. As Eli says, "the question has always been what was edited out of the Emails that have been made public"

and discarding of temperature data,

EAU was not the repository for the data

suggesting a bias for making the case for warming.

if you squint really tiny it looks sort of like a buffalo, too... Argument from paranoia.

Why do such a thing if, as global warming defenders contend, the "science is settled?"

Straw man. Nobody says "the science is settled". People occasionally say this question or that is settled. Anyway, such a thing as what? Act in such a way that a paranoid person could interpret it in a paranoid way? Sorry, all behavior of any sort fits into that class.

Probably the most important thing to say about all of this is what RealClimate said early in the whole kerfuffle:

Furthermore, it is a fairly simple exercise to extract the grid-box temperatures from a CRU dataset—CRUTEM3v for example—and compare it to raw data from World Monthly Surface Station Climatology. CRU data are available from http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/cru/data/temperature. ... In particular, it would presumably be of interest to know whether the trends in the CRU data are very different than the trends in the raw data, since this could be taken as indication that the methods used by CRU result in an overstatement of the evidence for global warming. ...

Results are shown in [the linked article]. The key points: both Set A and Set B indicate warming with trends that are statistically identical between the CRU data and the raw data (>99% confidence); the histograms show that CRU quality control has, as expected, narrowed the variance (both extreme positive and negative values removed).

Conclusion: There is no indication whatsoever of any problem with the CRU data. An independent study (by a molecular biologist it Italy, as it happens) came to the same conclusion using a somewhat different analysis. None of this should come as any surprise of course, since any serious errors would have been found and published already.

Martin Parry, WGII chair, quoted on Klimazwiebel

FOIGate – The British government has since determined someone at East Anglia committed a crime by refusing to release global warming documents sought in 95 Freedom of Information Act requests. The CRU is one of three international agencies compiling global temperature data. If their stuff's so solid, why the secrecy?

CRU did not feel entitled to release the data nor favorably disposed toward entertaining the requests of amateurs whose main intent was to impugn their honesty.

Marco says:
"FOI-gate" is wrong, too. The British government has NOT declared that the UEA should have upheld the FOI requests. The information commissioner (well, actually, his deputy) stated that there was prima facie evidence that someone asked for deleting information that was a (possible) subject of FOI requests. This, notably, is solely related to the IPCC e-mail deletion request by Jones. The ICO has not taken any decision on the FOI requests themselves, and has not investigated whether a *real* offence has been committed.

Martin Parry, WGII chair, quoted on Klimazwiebel

ChinaGate – An investigation by the U.K.'s left-leaning Guardian newspaper found evidence that Chinese weather station measurements not only were seriously flawed, but couldn't be located. "Where exactly are 42 weather monitoring stations in remote parts of rural China?" the paper asked. The paper's investigation also couldn't find corroboration of what Chinese scientists turned over to American scientists, leaving unanswered, "how much of the warming seen in recent decades is due to the local effects of spreading cities, rather than global warming?" The Guardian contends that researchers covered up the missing data for years.

Maybe scientists should track the data for their thirty-year-old publications, but they don't.

HimalayaGate – An Indian climate official admitted in January that, as lead author of the IPCC's Asian report, he intentionally exaggerated when claiming Himalayan glaciers would melt away by 2035 in order to prod governments into action. This fraudulent claim was not based on scientific research or peer-reviewed. Instead it was originally advanced by a researcher, since hired by a global warming research organization, who later admitted it was "speculation" lifted from a popular magazine. This political, not scientific, motivation at least got some researcher funded.

An admitted error in WG II, not a criticism of climate science.

Via Realclimate:
In a regional chapter on Asia in Volume 2, written by authors from the region, it was erroneously stated that 80% of Himalayan glacier area would very likely be gone by 2035. This is of course not the proper IPCC projection of future glacier decline, which is found in Volume 1 of the report. There we find a 45-page, perfectly valid chapter on glaciers, snow and ice (Chapter 4), with the authors including leading glacier experts (such as our colleague Georg Kaser from Austria, who first discovered the Himalaya error in the WG2 report). There are also several pages on future glacier decline in Chapter 10 (“Global Climate Projections”), where the proper projections are used e.g. to estimate future sea level rise. So the problem here is not that the IPCC’s glacier experts made an incorrect prediction. The problem is that a WG2 chapter, instead of relying on the proper IPCC projections from their WG1 colleagues, cited an unreliable outside source in one place. Fixing this error involves deleting two sentences on page 493 of the WG2 report.

Martin Parry, WGII chair, quoted on Klimazwiebel
The IPCC has posted a notice on its website http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/presentations/himalaya-statement-20january2010.pdf to the effect that assessment procedures should have been followed more carefully in the statement about the likely disappearance of Himalayan glaciers by 2035. The statement derived from evidence from an apparently reliable source who, I believe, was the chair of the Himalayan sub-group of the World Glacier Commission, but this evidence was not strong enough to support the level of confidence implied by the text.

– Rajendra Pachauri, the IPCC chairman who accepted with Al Gore the Nobel Prize for scaring people witless, at first defended the Himalaya melting scenario. Critics, he said, practiced "voodoo science." After the melting-scam perpetrator 'fessed up, Pachauri admitted to making a mistake. But, he insisted, we still should trust him.

An admitted error in WG II, and a dubious connection (did the "voodoo" have anything to do with the Himalayan glacier error?) , but not a criticism of climate science.

Update: The journalist Fred Pearce does report the words "voodoo science" escaped Pachauri's lips, but does not make the context clear. It is clear that IPCC WGII erred. I don't know that Pachauri has expressed any error for which he is personally responsible except in the "buck stops here" sense, nor that he has made one in this case.

PachauriGate II – Pachauri also claimed he didn't know before the 192-nation climate summit meeting in Copenhagen in December that the bogus Himalayan glacier claim was sheer speculation. But the London Times reported that a prominent science journalist said he had pointed out those errors in several e-mails and discussions to Pachauri, who "decided to overlook it." Stonewalling? Cover up? Pachauri says he was "preoccupied." Well, no sense spoiling the Copenhagen party, where countries like Pachauri's India hoped to wrench billions from countries like the United States to combat global warming's melting glaciers. Now there are calls for Pachauri's resignation.

Do you think the head of IPCC reads every email about every nit in the document. That is silly and clearly not his job. Anyway, you are still beating the same horse, which has to do with WG II, and hence is not a criticism of climate science.

SternGate – One excuse for imposing worldwide climate crackdown has been the U.K.'s 2006 Stern Report, an economic doomsday prediction commissioned by the government. Now the U.K. Telegraph reports that quietly after publication "some of these predictions had been watered down because the scientific evidence on which they were based could not be verified." Among original claims now deleted were that northwest Australia has had stronger typhoons in recent decades, and that southern Australia lost rainfall because of rising ocean temperatures. Exaggerated claims get headlines. Later, news reporters disclose the truth. Why is that?

Indeed, exaggerated claims get headlines. I look forward to the truth being reported. Anyway, Stern is an economist and the report was an economic report, so this is not a criticism of climate science.

SternGate II – A researcher now claims the Stern Report misquoted his work to suggest a firm link between global warming and more-frequent and severe floods and hurricanes. Robert Muir-Wood said his original research showed no such link. He accused Stern of "going far beyond what was an acceptable extrapolation of the evidence." We're shocked.

As I understand it, this isn't true, but again, climate science is not responsible for the contents of the Stern report.

CORRECTION: I find plenty of evidence online that Muir-Wood objected to how Stern used his research. Much is made of this by Roger Pielke Jr. and Richard Tol. I reiterate that Stern's report was not produced by climate scientists and does not reflect on climate science. Wikipedia has more details, from which one may gather that the questi0n is not so cut and dry as one might presume.

According to the Sunday Times in the article "Climate change study was ‘misused’"[31] the Stern report 'misused' disaster analysts research by Robert Muir-Wood, head of research at Risk Management Solutions, a US-based consultancy. The Stern report, citing Muir-Wood, said: “New analysis based on insurance industry data has shown that weather-related catastrophe losses have increased by 2% each year since the 1970s over and above changes in wealth, inflation and population growth/movement. […] If this trend continued or intensified with rising global temperatures, losses from extreme weather could reach 0.5%-1% of world GDP by the middle of the century.”. According to Muir-Wood "said his research showed no such thing and accused Stern of “going far beyond what was an acceptable extrapolation of the evidence”." [31]

AmazonGate – The London Times exposed another shocker: the IPCC claim that global warming will wipe out rain forests was fraudulent, yet advanced as "peer-reveiwed" science. The Times said the assertion actually "was based on an unsubstantiated claim by green campaigners who had little scientific expertise," "authored by two green activists" and lifted from a report from the World Wildlife Fund, an environmental pressure group. The "research" was based on a popular science magazine report that didn't bother to assess rainfall. Instead, it looked at the impact of logging and burning. The original report suggested "up to 40 percent" of Brazilian rain forest was extremely sensitive to small reductions in the amount of rainfall, but the IPCC expanded that to cover the entire Amazon, the Times reported.

Again, a gross exagerration of the controversy, and again, a WG II controversy and not, therefore, a criticism of climate science.

Leake (yet again), with “research” by skeptic Richard North, has also promoted “Amazongate” with a story regarding a WG2 statement on the future of Amazonian forests under a drying climate. The contested IPCC statement reads: “Up to 40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation; this means that the tropical vegetation, hydrology and climate system in South America could change very rapidly to another steady state, not necessarily producing gradual changes between the current and the future situation (Rowell and Moore, 2000).” Leake’s problem is with the Rowell and Moore reference, a WWF report. The roots of the story are in two blog pieces by North, in which he first claims that the IPCC assertions attributed to the WWF report are not actually in that report. Since this claim was immediately shown to be false, North then argued that the WWF report’s basis for their statement (a 1999 Nature article by Nepstad et al.) dealt only with the effects of logging and fire –not drought– on Amazonian forests. To these various claims Nepstad has now responded, noting that the IPCC statement is in fact correct. The only issue is that the IPCC cited the WWF report rather than the underlying peer-reviewed papers by Nepstad et al. These studies actually provide the basis for the IPCC’s estimate on Amazonian sensitivity to drought. Investigations of the correspondence between Leake, scientists, and a BBC reporter (see here and here and here) show that Leake ignored or misrepresented explanatory information given to him by Nepstad and another expert, Simon Lewis, and published his incorrect story anyway. This “issue” is thus completely without merit.

For more on Mr. Leake's reportage, see especially Deltoid.

From Dr Parry on KlimaZwiebel: Authors of the chapter on Latin America have demonstrated that their conclusion that ‘up to 40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation’ is based on peer-reviewed sources in their chapter, including information from the journal Nature. Their statement may be obtained from the IPCC Secretariat and WG2 office.

– The U.K. Sunday Telegraph has documented at least 16 nonpeer-reviewed reports (so far) from the advocacy group World Wildlife Fund that were used in the IPCC's climate change bible, which calls for capping manmade greenhouse gases.

As far as I know, the WG I report relies on peer reviewed science, so again, this is a criticism of WG II and not a criticism of climate science. However, WG II explicitly allows other sources of information, so this (repeated several times below) is a complete non-scandal.

The IPCC cites 18,000 references in the AR4; the vast majority of these are peer-reviewed scientific journal papers. The IPCC maintains a clear guideline on the responsible use of so-called “gray” literature, which are typically reports by other organizations or governments. Especially for Working Groups 2 and 3 (but in some cases also for 1) it is indispensable to use gray sources, since many valuable data are published in them: reports by government statistics offices, the International Energy Agency, World Bank, UNEP and so on. This is particularly true when it comes to regional impacts in the least developed countries, where knowledgeable local experts exist who have little chance, or impetus, to publish in international science journals.

Reports by non-governmental organizations like the WWF can be used (as in the Himalaya glacier and Amazon forest cases) but any information from them needs to be carefully checked (this guideline was not followed in the former case). After all, the role of the IPCC is to assess information, not just compile anything it finds. Assessment involves a level of critical judgment, double-checking, weighing supporting and conflicting pieces of evidence, and a critical appreciation of the methodology used to obtain the results. That is why leading researchers need to write the assessment reports – rather than say, hiring graduate students to compile a comprehensive literature review.

From Dr. Parry on Klimazwiebel: Some of the media have criticised us for using non-journal sources because these are not reviewed, but this a) wrongly assumes that IPCC assessment should not use non-journal literature (Annex 2 of the IPCC assessment procedures clearly spell out how they can and should be used), and b) mistakenly assumes that UN, government, agency and NGO reports are generally unreviewed. Many such reports are intensively reviewed, both internally and externally. Even if not peer-reviewed, there are reports that contain valuable information about experiences with adaptation, for example. You know that IPCC procedures ask that especially careful attention be given to the veracity of such sources because they can be variable in quality. It would therefore be helpful if, when asked about non-reviewed sources, you make clear what the IPCC assessment procedures are and how you followed them. The IPCC homepage now has a useful summary of these procedures.

– Even when global warming alarmists base claims on scientific measurements, they've often had their finger on the scale. Russian think tank investigators evaluated thousands of documents and e-mails leaked from the East Anglia research center and concluded readings from the coldest regions of their nation had been omitted, driving average temperatures up about half a degree.

This seems to be a misrepresentation. As it has been pointed out many times, leaving out cold stations without suitable corrections would tend to understate warming, as colder places are warming faster than are warmer places.

Russia-Gate II – Speaking of Russia, a presentation last October to the Geological Society of America showed how tree-ring data from Russia indicated cooling after 1961, but was deceptively truncated and only artfully discussed in IPCC publications. Well, at least the tree-ring data made it into the IPCC report, albeit disguised and misrepresented.

This also seems confused, but to be honest I can never make much sense out of the tree ring discussions. I guess the question is who is doing the obfuscating.

U.S.Gate – If Brits can't be trusted, are Yanks more reliable? The U.S. National Climate Data Center has been manipulating weather data too, say computer expert E. Michael Smith and meteorologist Joesph D'Aleo. Forty years ago there were 6,000 surface-temperature measuring stations, but only 1,500 by 1990, which coincides with what global warming alarmists say was a record temperature increase. Most of the deleted stations were in colder regions, just as in the Russian case, resulting in misleading higher average temperatures.

confused again;
all else equal, leaving out cold stations without suitable corrections would tend to understate warming; of course professional scientists don;t make such gross errors in either direction. The implication is simply unfounded, and analysis by several others confirms this.

Tamino addresses Watts, saying: Your claims, in your document with Joe D’Aleo for the SPPI, are just plain wrong. You’ve avoided answering this criticism, claiming that you can’t replicate my results without my code. Yet several others managed to do just that. It’s not that difficult, and you were irresponsible not to investigate this issue before publishing your claims. ... Furthermore, your use of false claims to accuse NOAA scientists of deliberate deception was not just mistaken, it was unethical.

If you have any honor at all, you’ll set the record straight. You owe it to everyone, and especially to NOAA, to admit that you were wrong. And you certainly owe it to NOAA to apologize. You need to make a highly visible, highly public admission of error, and apology, for using falsehoods to accuse others of fraud.

IceGate – Hardly a continent has escaped global warming skewing. The IPCC based its findings of reductions in mountain ice in the Andes, Alps and in Africa on a feature story of climbers' anecdotes in a popular mountaineering magazine, and a dissertation by a Switzerland university student, quoting mountain guides. Peer-reviewed? Hype? Worse?

WG II. Not a criticism of climate science. And perfectly valid evidence of impacts.

From Dr. Parry on Klimazwiebel: IPCC authors in Chapter 1 have defended their use of climbing records as part of the range of evidence of possible effects of changes in snow and ice cover on recreation. This source was not used as evidence for ice changes per se, which was a misunderstanding in the press comment. Their statement is available on request from the IPCC Secretariat and WG2 office.

ResearchGate – The global warming camp is reeling so much lately it must have seemed like a major victory when a Penn State University inquiry into climate scientist Michael Mann found no misconduct regarding three accusations of climate research impropriety. But the university did find "further investigation is warranted" to determine whether Mann engaged in actions that "seriously deviated from accepted practices for proposing, conducting or reporting research or other scholarly activities." Being investigated for only one fraud is a global warming victory these days.

What ever happened to a presumption of innocence? Especially given the context!

ReefGate – Let's not forget the alleged link between climate change and coral reef degradation. The IPCC cited not peer-reviewed literature, but advocacy articles by Greenpeace, the publicity-hungry advocacy group, as its sole source for this claim.

WGII. Not relevant to climate science. And redundant with a previous point.

AfricaGate – The IPCC claim that rising temperatures could cut in half agricultural yields in African countries turns out to have come from a 2003 paper published by a Canadian environmental think tank – not a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

WGII. Not relevant to climate science. And redundant with that same previous point.

RealClimate says:
The IPCC Synthesis Report states: “By 2020, in some countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50%.” This is properly referenced back to chapter 9.4 of WG2, which says: “In other countries, additional risks that could be exacerbated by climate change include greater erosion, deficiencies in yields from rain-fed agriculture of up to 50% during the 2000-2020 period, and reductions in crop growth period (Agoumi, 2003).” The Agoumi reference is correct and reported correctly. The Sunday Times, in an article by Jonathan Leake, labels this issue “Africagate” – the main criticism being that Agoumi (2003) is not a peer-reviewed study (see below for our comments on “gray” literature), but a report from the International Institute for Sustainable Development and the Climate Change Knowledge Network, funded by the US Agency for International Development. The report, written by Morroccan climate expert Professor Ali Agoumi, is a summary of technical studies and research conducted to inform Initial National Communications from three countries (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and is a perfectly legitimate IPCC reference. It is noteworthy that chapter 9.4 continues with “However, there is the possibility that adaptation could reduce these negative effects (Benhin, 2006).

From Dr. Parry on Klimazwiebel:
The statement that in Africa ‘by 2020, in some countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50%’ relates to the combined effects of climate variability and climate change, as correctly reported in the chapter on Africa and in the WG2 TS and SPM. A similar qualifier should have been included in the SYR. The statement may be obtained from the IPCC Secretariat and WG2 office.

– The IPCC also claimed rising sea levels endanger the 55 percent of the Netherlands it says is below sea level. The portion of the Netherlands below sea level actually is 20 percent. The Dutch environment minister said she will no longer tolerate climate researchers' errors.

WGII. Not relevant to climate science. And redundant with that same previous point. And completely silly, to boot. The amount threatened by rising seas is not identical to the amount below sea level. It's not as if this were a research question.

Skanky offers:
"Sea level in the Netherlands: The WG2 report states that "The Netherlands is an example of a country highly susceptible to both sea-level rise and river flooding because 55% of its territory is below sea level". This sentence was provided by a Dutch government agency - the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, which has now published a correction stating that the sentence should have read "55 per cent of the Netherlands is at risk of flooding; 26 per cent of the country is below sea level, and 29 per cent is susceptible to river flooding". It surely will go down as one of the more ironic episodes in its history when the Dutch parliament last Monday derided the IPCC, in a heated debate, for printing information provided by ... the Dutch government. In addition, the IPCC notes that there are several definitions of the area below sea level. The Dutch Ministry of Transport uses the figure 60% (below high water level during storms), while others use 30% (below mean sea level). Needless to say, the actual number mentioned in the report has no bearing on any IPCC conclusions and has nothing to do with climate science, and it is questionable whether it should even be counted as an IPCC error."

Dr. Parry on Klimazwiebel: The chapter on Europe quotes 55% of the Netherlands as being below sea level, but there appear to be several definitions of this. The Dutch Ministry of Transport uses the figure 60% (which is below high water level during storms), while others use 30% which is below mean sea level. The statement may be obtained from the IPCC Secretariat and WG2 office.

– Geologists for Space Studies in Geophysics and Oceanography and their U.S. and Canadian colleagues say previous studies largely overestimated by 40 percent Alaskan glacier loss for 40 years. This flawed data are fed into those computers to predict future warming.
Well, I don't know about the first part, but as for "This flawed data are fed into those
computers to predict future warming" you are just resorting to making stuff up

Dr Mauri Pelto adds:
The last one Alaskagate is strange. This reports on a finding based on an examination of a larger pool of glaciers in Alaska that the average contribution to rising sea level is 0.12 mm/year, compared to 0.17 mm per year. "Here we combine a comprehensive glacier inventory with elevation changes derived from sequential digital elevation models. We find that between 1962 and 2006, Alaskan glaciers lost 41.9±8.6 km3 yr−1 of water, and contributed 0.12±0.02 mm yr−1 to sea-level rise, 34% less than estimated earlier". For various reasons it is not clear which number will prove more accurate, but they are supportive of each other, not contradictory. We have worked hard to derive systems that can more accurately assess the situation of glacier volume change and have reported the data. Working from reporting mass balance of single glaciers, to entire regions. Make no mistake the mass balance of these glaciers remains very negative with some glaciers continuing a long retreat, Gilkey Glacier , and other just starting what will be a long retreat, Brady Glacier.

Note: Quotes from RealClimate, unless otherwise noted, are from

Quotes from Klimazwiebel are from http://klimazwiebel.blogspot.com/2010/03/martin-parry-chair-of-ipcc-ar4-working.html

So, mostly not about climate science, mostly nit-picking, mostly trumped-up nonsense, largely repetitive, and entirely scurrilous.

Has somebody else come up with something more convincing? I doubt it.

Which is what we would have expected. Why? Because the climate science conspiracy being proposed would require very smart and very sinister people, if for no other reason than the necessity of getting all the national science academies on board. But smart and sinister people have better ways of making money than getting Ph.D.s and postdocs and ultimately striving for tenure at the meteorology department at Penn State or East Anglia.

The whole damn thing makes no sense at all. There is not enough payoff for sinister people getting into meteorology or dendrochrology. The evil windmill cabal cannot make this all work. Reality is not coherent with the accusations being flung about.

(Update: Further glosses on any of these points are welcome. Many thanks to Dr. Pelto for getting the ball rolling.)

(Update: Another relevant piece on RealClimate here: Whatevergate )

Image via Little Big Games, makers of the Little Big Game of Bupkis