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

2012/02/05 10 comments

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

2012/02/04 7 comments

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

2012/02/04 12 comments

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

2012/02/03 7 comments

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.

(continues)

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

2012/02/03 7 comments

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?

(continues)

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

2012/02/02 10 comments

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

2012/02/02 9 comments

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)

Lysenkoism And ‘Global Warming’ _by Professor Cliff Ollier

2012/01/28 2 comments

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).

The New York Times (Inadvertently) Demolishes Mann’s Defence

2011/11/04 5 comments

If this doesn’t kill Mann’s attempts to avoid FOI, I don’t know what will. The New York Times reports about the latest example of (massive) scientific fraud:

Outright fraud may be rare, these experts say, but they contend that Dr. Stapel took advantage of a system that allows researchers to operate in near secrecy and massage data to find what they want to find, without much fear of being challenged. “The big problem is that the culture is such that researchers spin their work in a way that tells a prettier story than what they really found,” said Jonathan Schooler, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “It’s almost like everyone is on steroids, and to compete you have to take steroids as well.” […]

Dr. Stapel was able to operate for so long, the committee said, in large measure because he was “lord of the data,” the only person who saw the experimental evidence that had been gathered (or fabricated). This is a widespread problem in psychology, said Jelte M. Wicherts, a psychologist at the University of Amsterdam. In a recent survey, two-thirds of Dutch research psychologists said they did not make their raw data available for other researchers to see. “This is in violation of ethical rules established in the field,” Dr. Wicherts said.

For the reading-challenged amongst us, the point is that secrecy and refusing to share research material is the perfect environment for fraud. That’s why every sharing tool is important including FOI.

And before anybody asks I don’t believe Mann is a fraudster. His emails will likely be as interesting as Sarah Palin’s or even less. But the principle of FOI must be defended to protect ourselves from the fraudsters out there.

Wolfgang! Wolfgang! What Have You Done?!

2011/09/05 10 comments

Here’s some commented text from paper 1 at pages 1 and 2 of issue 1 of Remote Sensing, Feb 20, 2009…yes, of course an editorial by brown-nosed Professor-with-little-to-teach Doctor-with-nowhere-to-guide-to Wolfgang Wagner, introducing the new journal with “A Better Understanding of Our Earth through Remote Sensing” (PDF):

We are so accustomed to seeing satellite pictures of the earth that it seems as if there is nothing left to be discovered. […] Yet, does this truly mean that all the secrets of the earth have now been disclosed? Can we extract all the information we need from existing earth observation data?

No we can’t. Why? Because of people like you, Wolfgang, trying to remove credibility from those that do use “existing earth observation data” and spending their time sending apologies to the ones who pretend “there is nothing left to be discovered“.

[…] we have now more open questions and needs for environmental monitoring capabilities than ever before […]

No we don’t. See above. How did you dare mention “open questions” a few months before Copenhagen?

[…] What is the mass balance of glaciers and how strongly does their melting contribute to sea level rise? Are sea surface temperatures rising and will we experience more hurricanes and tropical storms as a result of that? Can we measure subtle changes in sea surface salinity and how do they affect ocean circulation?[…]

Say what? So, in 2009 you did ask questions like a climate skeptic. Wow. Impressive.

[…] These and many more question can only be answered by combining remote sensing and geophysical modeling capabilities in a process-oriented framework.

Process-oriented, uh? As in, by establishing processes that do not depend on the whims and egos of the people involved. What a dream. Too bad it died around 30 months later, when your “framework” stopped caring about the “process“.

The scope of the new journal Remote Sensing is to publish regular research papers, reviews, letters and communications covering all aspects of the remote sensing process, from instrument design and signal processing to the retrieval of geophysical parameters and their application in geosciences. Remote sensing is understood in broad terms, encompassing a wide range of sensors that acquire data about the Earth and its environment, and other physical objects and processes […]

Now this is important. You know, following your resignation people have started saying the nastiest things about Remote Sensing, a minor journal of no interest for climate science. People who? People like the person you apologised to, dear Wolfgang.

[…] Remote sensing is a highly interdisciplinary field where electrical engineers, physicists, mathematicians, computer scientists, and surveyors meet with their colleagues from photogrammetry, GIS, and the various geosciences[…]

They meet, alright, then what? You try to ostracize some of them, uh? Do they have to listen to a recording of all RealClimate posts in Vogon language?

Is that what a meeting of minds should be about?

[…] Due to the confounding influence of other natural parameters it may for example not be possible to achieve an unambiguous interpretation of the remotely sensed data. The limited number of independent measurements may also mean that an exact solution is unattainable or at least impracticable […]

So if you KNEW all of this in Feb 2009, what made you throw it away in Sep 2011? On which date exactly did your mind lose coherence (or you evil cousin took over)?

[…] The scientific challenge is to develop retrieval algorithms that describe the physical measurement process in sufficient detail, yet be simple enough in order to allow a robust inversion of the remotely sensed signals […]

Are you sure your newly-found friend Gleick would agree? Actually, do YOU agree with that statement and if so how can you, now?

[…] My personal wish is that Remote Sensing will stimulate the exchange of scientists from around the world […]

And yet, when you have seen your wish granted you ran away. What have you done, Wolfgang? Do you realize, from yesterday onwards, each and every paper published on Remote Sensing will be greeted by a question: “What does Kevin Trenberth think about it?”.

It’ll be better and more sincere for MDPI to add a little note to every contribution: “I’m Kevin Trenberth and I approve this paper“.

——

ps in his introductory editorial, Wolfgang mentions “climate change” twice, “global carbon balance” once. Of the seven rhetorical questions he poses, six can be traced to climate change. I don’t know what one should think, but the importance of “climate change” for Wolfgang and Remote Sensing is self-evident.

Spectacular Failure At The Guardian

2011/06/12 8 comments

Leo Hickman bemoans an invite by a “right-wing libertarian” climate skeptic organization just as Iranian President, known anti-Semite Ahmadinejad joins Greenpeace, Osama bin Laden (and Leo Hickman) among the ranks of AGW Faithful.

Turning All Lights On Against “Earth Hour”

2011/03/25 8 comments

Like in 2010, I will definitely not turn the lights off for “Earth Hour“. I will do the exact opposite.

Why?

Because I don’t want this to happen. And even if it will happen, still I will be the last one standing with a house full of lighting.

Earth Hour? No, thanks

"Earth Hour"? No, thanks

 

“Stop Lord Monckton!”

Peter Gleick of “weak thought” and “let’s-pump-up-some-controversy-exactly-when-my-book-is-published” fame has surfaced again, this time in a comment to a photograph posted by Andy Revkin on Facebook, showing Lord Monckton and Brad Johnson in Cancún.

Sadly, there isn’t much positive to report this time either.

Ironically (or exactly!), Gleick’s comment is posted exactly underneath my quote from Carl Sagan, “the cure for a fallacious argument is a better argument, not the suppression of ideas“. Here’s Gleick’s:

I cannot believe that Monckton has a booth. Astounding.

And this is my reply:

Whilst I am not surprised by Peter Gleick’s comment, exactly juxtaposed to Sagan’s quote, a quick google search identifies Lord Monckton as “advisor” to CFACT.

Therefore it is incorrect to claim that Monckton “has a booth” in Cancun.

On the… other hand CFACT describes itself as “a UN credentialed NGO [that] has been sending delegations to UN conferences for many years“. So if anybody is itching for a bit of censorship and has a problem with the UN credentials system, an email or two in the direction of that glass building in Turtle Bay are in order.

We Have To Cure Ourselves From The Itch For Absolute Knowledge And Power

2010/12/02 9 comments

As I find myself repeating, AGW has been so far impossible to falsify, in the sense that nobody has any idea of what kind of observation or observations would be needed to disprove it, either as-is or in its catastrophic form.

This is no small detail, as the very existence of catastrophic AGW is used by many people in blatant violation of Cromwell’s Rule:

if a coherent Bayesian attaches a prior probability of zero to the hypothesis that the Moon is made of green cheese, then even whole armies of astronauts coming back bearing green cheese cannot convince him

How many AGWers would be able to accept the famous exhortation, “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken“? Very very few, especially among those of an activist variety. And this brings one straight back where I started for tonight’s research, a chance view (via the concept of “scientific allegiance“) of a short, emotional clip from “The Ascent of Man” by Jacob Bronowski, author of the quote that is the title of this post.

Bronowski makes a very poignant point, inviting each and every one of us to reach out to people, instead of transforming them into numbers. And what is the accusation of “denialism” but an attempt to de-humanize anybody that is not an AGW True Believer?

The world being built anybody using the term “denialism” in an AGW context ain’t pretty. Bronowski again:

There is no absolute knowledge. And those who claim it, whether they are scientists or dogmatists, open the door to tragedy. All information is imperfect. We have to treat it with humility. That is the human condition; and that is what quantum physics says. I mean that literally.

Microblogging of Roger Pielke Jr’s London Debate With Benny Peiser

2010/11/17 2 comments

Roger Pielke Jr and Benny Peiser have been guests of London think-tank “Legatum” in the evening of Nov 16. This is my microblogging of the evening (I’ll edit it slightly when I have a few mins):

  1. Starts at Legatum Institute in London with around 40 in attendance
  2. There is a camera, and a lectern 🙂
  3. Researcher from Legatum introduces mentioning Roger being victim of politicization of science
  4. Hubris of Kyoto process must be avoided
  5. Bob Ward wouldn’t be happy with Legatum’s approach to AGW
  6. Book available for 15gbp. Finally Roger’s turn. Laments how repetitive book tour is
  7. Book tour next at LSE on Friday night.
  8. Tonight’s talk about innovation policies for the energy sector
  9. Govts deeply involved in innovations. Makes example out of own trip
  10. Toll road =PPP. Airport. 757 Boeing American not British due to military investments. Etc
  11. Even shoes’ rubber tech due to military innovations ie government’s
  12. Govts invest in innovations already – question is how should do it
  13. Attitude to innovations depends on ideology
  14. China not USA recognizes international competition on innovation
  15. Free markets not always best, meddling Govts either
  16. Energy innovation seldom a priority
  17. Average 2. 5% reinvestment but only. 2% in energy
  18. Energy as something that pops out of the ground
  19. Six reasons to innovate in energy
  20. 1. Supply and demand 2. Security
  21. 3. Energy poverty 4. Existing subsidies 5. CO2 emissions 6. Mountaintop removal
  22. Also particulate emissions
  23. Germany: nuclear tax. India: coal tax. China: 700B$ in clean energy due to population
  24. Vast amounts of energy needed not a generic push to consume less
  25. Talks of possible future poverty in USA compared to China and India
  26. Peiser will talk about book. Disappointed that Roger did not.
  27. Govts see no prob with energy. India and China suffer from past mistakes
  28. Peiser again. Carbon tax is proposed as replacement to climate failures
  29. Euro Govts suggesting carbon tax but to raise money not energy r&d
  30. Billions in nuclear energy didn’t make it cheaper, actually dearer
  31. Every academic argues their sector needs more money to help growth but link is a myth
  32. Current green policies too unpopular, Govts under threat because of them
  33. No renewable energy company can stand on its own.
  34. Decarbonisation means switching to more expensive energy hindering growth as in Europe
  35. There is no Tea Party in Roger’s book
  36. Antigreen backlash is undergoing and will get worse
  37. Decarbonisation because of AGW? But it might be beneficial
  38. Perplexed Peiser: decarbonise to get cheaper energy? Makes no sense
  39. Not an easy night for Roger
  40. Climate agenda going down because economics don’t add up.
  41. Peiser makes example of useless r&d like fusion reactor
  42. Track record of Govts failure whilst shale gas is so low it makes no sense to find more
  43. Shale gas an example of private innovation
  44. Legatum researcher says book weakens case for govt involvement in energy r&d
  45. Legatum researcher unconvinced by book
  46. Roger replies. Climate not only point. Other reasons why innovation makes sense
  47. No global food crisis due to govt innovations. Health improvs too
  48. Innovation policy a spectrum not just r&d
  49. Importance of failures to find a success
  50. Roger talks about Germany and India again. Even tiny tax would generate billions
  51. Mentions long term
  52. My questions details later (*)
  53. Peiser: book doesn’t talk of economics. Germany example of middle classes paying the rich
  54. Roger: Germany as failure and success at same time. Peiser: no innovation in Germany
  55. Roger seems concerned about current USA politics
  56. Q: diversification but subsidies = huge overhead costs. How to get companies interested?
  57. Roger: companies won’t look out for national interests
  58. Peiser: companies already diversifying. Problem of protectionism.
  59. Roger: not in favor of protectionism – ends here
  60. Legatum researcher was Dalibor Rohac

Finally I have managed to get a copy of The Climate Fix, autographed by its author.

(*) I have congratulated Roger for disseminating the news about the $82B dodgy insurance deal, but then asked him and Benny why replace the humongous failed climate policy of old with some other humongous policy; why not concentrate efforts on small but significant issues like particulates; and what would prevent Governments from raising a carbon tax and spending money on something that has nothing to do with carbon.

How To Get A Comprehensive, Serious, Effective Global Treaty About Climate Change

2010/11/11 3 comments

It’s so simple, no rabid environmentalist or holier-than-thou climate scientist will understand it…so I won’t explain it here, and leave it as an exercise to the (rational) reader starting from this quote:

“Now, if for the past 20 years we had been told that there is a probability of some change in the climate due to CO2, and a very small possibility that it is likely to lead to a drastic lurch, then I could join with you and the consensus. Instead of which I have been repeatedly told that trillions must be spent urgently because there are only a few months to save the world and it is the most urgent problem, more urgent than hunger, malaria and indoor air pollution, likely to lead to the collapse of the entire economy and moreover that the science is settled and to question it is to be equivalent to a criminal. So, apologies if I sound a little exercised on this, but as a huge champion of science I feel very, very let down by the science establishment, especially the laughably poor enquiries on the emails published this year. Ask yourself if these emails had been within a drug company about a drug trial, whether the establishment would have been so determined to excuse them”

I shall rephrase it for the IQ challenged:

IF for the past 20 years we had been told that:

  1. there is a probability of some change in the climate due to CO2, and
  2. a very small possibility that it is likely to lead to a drastic lurch,

THEN I could join with you and the consensus.

INSTEAD I have been repeatedly told that:

  1. trillions must be spent urgently because there are only a few months to save the world and
  2. it is the most urgent problem,
  3. more urgent than hunger, malaria and indoor air pollution,
  4. likely to lead to the collapse of the entire economy and moreover
  5. the science is settled and
  6. to question it is to be equivalent to a criminal

So, apologies if I sound a little exercised on this, but as a huge champion of science I feel very, very let down by the science establishment, especially the laughably poor enquiries on the emails published this year

“World of Warmcraft” (“Fate of the World”) – Why Skeptics Should Rejoice

2010/11/02 3 comments

There we go again with the Guardian trying to launch yet another warmist plaything, this time of course not killing anybody, or in truth, killing even more people than before.

I am talking of course of “Fate of the World“. a game that (according to Adam Vaughan)

puts players at the helm of a future World Trade Organisation-style environmental body with a task of saving the world by cutting carbon emissions or damning it by letting soaring temperatures wreak havoc through floods, droughts and fires

Obviously, with much less splatter to show there is not going to be an outcry like with Franny Armstrong’s disaster, yet there are many reasons to rejoice at this ultimately self-defeating propaganda piece. You see, the video game, renamed “World of Warmcrafton Twitter by the incomparable Ed Yong of Discover Blogs fame, is surely like a dream come true for many a skeptic.

As suggested by Vaughan, and then reported in an accompanying first-hand-experience article by Jack Arnott, gamers aren’t going to be presented pretty choices:

Put an emissions cap on a growing economy, stifling growth, and they’ll get fed up and throw your agency out of the area. Encourage investment and prosperity and there’ll soon be environmental consequences.[…] wars and natural disasters are often triggered inadvertently by your decisions, and you’re informed each time a major species becomes extinct […] If a regime is refusing to bow to demands, why not sponsor an insurgency force to take them out? Better yet, if a country has an unforgivably high population to emissions ratio (I’m looking at you, North America), why not covertly sterilise the population?

(Yes, yes, of course it’s all in the spirit of “dark humor“. Who would have ever thought, “dark humor” includes now playing mass-murders and genocide on a games console…let’s get out those Rwanda jokes and Hiroshima stand-up comedy!!)

What will people learn from Fate of the World, but that, according to mainstream AGW belief, hugely unpopular policies are needed to prevent “environmental consequences“, alongside forcing people to remain (or to become) poor, killing many of them by absolutely unlawful, violent regime-change sponsorships, eliminating the undesirables, etc etc? Even the existence of a “Dr Apocalypse” mode, “in which your goal is to raise temperatures around the world as much as you can without losing the political support of different regions” (in Arnott’s words) can be easily seen as a further manifestation of “AGW believer bloodlust”.

Why, if I will ever need to demonstrate that the average AGWer is a humanity-hating warmonger looking forward to inspire violence and ruin the lives of as many people as possible…I’ll do worse than pointing to a copy of “Fate of the World”.

The Best Thing About Joe Romm…

2010/10/28 4 comments

…is his ability to carry people over with him towards the realm of pure silliness.

Of course I still think that Gavin Schmidt should be considered as the best thing that ever happened to climate skeptics. But while Schmidt’s innate ability is to undermine his own arguments to no end (I am sure they guy would lose a debate about UFOs against an astrologer), Romm is becoming an inspiration for a great number of his followers to go along wherever he takes them.

There we have, for example, Tom Friedman’s obsession with praising Dick Cheney (!) and China (who cares about its treatment of journalists, when it’s investing in “clean energy”?). Yes, Friedman believes every word Romm says. Now however the game is reaching new heights, so to speak, with the most incredibly stupid rhetorical attack this side of Philipp II of Macedon threatening Sparta. The attack, that is, against solidly-warmist Scientific American for the one and only reason of having spoken about Judith Curry.

Romm takes a long long road around the problem, of course, but the main trouble (what? An article about Curry?) is never far…suffice it to say that the article’s own author, writing in Climate Central of all places, goes straight to the point, and tries to justify why he “wrote about Judith Curry” and if it is “irresponsible to discuss Curry’s views” (rather than deal with Romm’s empty complaints about online polls and the use of the IPCC AR4 report).

Lemonick keeps hammering on and on about his crystal-clear orthodoxy…of course, Curry’s “valid points” are “often points the climate-science community already agrees with”. And of course, “some of her other points are not very persuasive at all”. So for Lemonick, Judith Curry either talks trivial, or stupid. Tertium non datur. We’re back among miracles.

None of that will ever be enough now that Romm is on the case. And his believers: Salon.com wonders about a “new barbarism” (cue the usual, trite conspiracy theory), whilst the FAIR blog denies there is any (any) “worthy argument” ever made by any climate skeptic (or Judith Curry). So for Jim Naureckas Scientific American did something pretty bad, as “skepticism” is “not a respectable scientific position” because everything the mainstream scientists do is right from day one, and everything the non-mainstream scientists do is wrong by definition. This will go into the miracles list as well.

I tell you, one day Romm or somebody in his coterie will come up with the equivalent of the GIA’s 1996 declaration that the whole of Algerian society (apart from a few people) were to be massacred as some kind of “fake Muslims”. Even Osama bin Laden could not stomach as much, and we only have to wait until even the most rabid AGWers will have their “Zouabri” moment and wake up to the only possible consequence of Romm’s scorched-earth policy: complete and absolute inaction about anything that is climate-related.

And that’s why Romm’s attack against Scientific American is so incredibly stupid.

President Vaclav Klaus At The GWPF Inaugural Annual Lecture: Quasi-live Blogging

2010/10/19 16 comments

Since I couldn’t get enough connectivity in the conference hall tonight, here are my quasi-live notes about President Václav Klaus’ Inaugural Annual GWPF Lecture at The Great Room of Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce in London (UK):

(these notes are provided as they are, with very little corrections – I will post my own reflections later)

(UPDATE: see also Reuters)

(UPDATE: full text of the lecture at the GWPF website)

Atrocious weather getting worse…is Al Gore in town, by any chance?

Around 70 people. Klaus’ book free to all attendants.

I meet Rupert Wyndham of BBC’s Complaint Procedure fame

Packing up quickly. Many are diplomats, as I have later learned.

7:07 Lawson and Klaus

Peiser starts. There is a lectern this time and a microphone. Videorecording equipment.

Klaus introduced as political leader but also an intellectual, of the classical liberalism variety: individual liberty, limited government, freedom to dissent.

“couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate speaker”

Copenhagen failure, Climategate, IPCC debacle: change in the political atmosphere.

Pres Klaus has been calling for rational and freedom-loving people to respond to the threat posed by collective environmentalist hysteria.

7:10
Klaus’ accent sounds better than mine

Special thanks to Nigel Lawson. Large range of institutions that support those that doubt current-prevailing dogma. This is not enough. Bias, carefully-organised propaganda needs to be countered with rationality.

Cites Bob Carter. The issue is not the warming, but the “dangerous human-induced warming”. Scientific debate is not about the policy. Public-policy debate has enormous implications. Governments, politicians, lobbyists search to grab more decision power for themselves.

Response to climate change can become the most costly mistake in history after Communism.

Cites McKitrick. Nobody is an expert on global warming. Too many aspects. Every body is an amateur on many if not most topics.

There are many respectable but highly-conflicting scientific takes on the subject. We must resist the attempt to shut down the debate. Real risk is to end up renouncing democracy.

Need to separate environmentalist myths from theories.

Has followed the literature. Carbon dioxide is a minor player, not primary cause of global warming. Cites Nobel-laureate: carbon dioxide across geological scales. Planetary changes don’t ask for permission.

Dangerous public policy consequences: many have concluded the current hypothesis is very weak. Not sufficiently tested. Can’t be used for policy decisions without looking at alternatives, opportunity costs, etc.

That is why he wrote the book about “green shackles”. (humor: since you’ve all got it, no need to continue speaking). Published in 16 different languages including Japanese and Arabic.

A year after publication, “Appeal to Reason” by Nigel Lawson. Klaus wrote the preface.to the Czech edition.

We are not on the winning side yet, but looking back since the launching of the AGW propaganda at the Rio Summit in 1992 and subsequent general pickup of the hypothesis, things have been improving.

Reputation of the scientific integrity of some of the most prominent researchers has been undermined, eg the Hockey Stick that was the basis of the 2001 IPCC report: pseudoscientific mindset, faulty data selection, frenzied propaganda, unscrupulous campaign, dubious statistics, etc etc (it’s a citation)

Copenhagen 2009 showed heterogeneity of views,

Three simple facts GW armies should keep in mind

1- Global mean climate does change, has changed, and will undoubtedly change

Over last 10k years, climate has been much the same and average temperature has not changed. Long-term, slight cooling.
GW armies are presenting a few decades as a threat to the planet to respond to with a wholesale change of our lifestyles.

Why are they so successful? Doctrines usually take much longer. Specifics of our time? Constanlty online? Religions less attractive? Desire to refill the emptiness with a new noble cause, saving the planet?

Environmentalists discovered some “more noble” than our down-to-earth lives. Can’t be accepted by somebody that lived under “noble” communism.

2- Medium-term timescales, 150 years (joke about Keynes), temperatures have shown a warming.

This is since the Northern Hemisphere emerged from the LIA two centuries ago. Trend was repeatedly interrupted.

Warming is modest and everything suggests future warming and consequences are not a cause for concern and something to battle against.

3- CO2 in atmosphere sometimes precedes, sometimes follows temp increases. Not fully understood.

No need to dispute those facts. Dispute is when people claim the coincidence in time is a “proof” of AGW. This is the current doctrine. This has existed for centuries, always with nature as the “starting point” to go back to. People are considered a foreign element. But it makes no sense to speak of a world without people, because there would be nobody to speak to (laughter).

Mentions his studies of econometric modelling. No conclusion can be based on correlation of two or more time sequences. So simple correlations do not exist.

Eg CO2 emissions did not start to grow visibly until 1940s. Temperatures at times moved in the opposite way of CO2.

Statistical analysis doesn’t demonstrate anything. Two Chinese scientists used random walk model for global temp variations. Result shows the model perfectly fits the data. No need to add human effects. No other model has given a btter fit.

There are other aspects of the doctrine, not just the simple relationship between temps and CO2. Another is the idea that increasing temperatures will be detrimental to the planet.

Many environmentalists don’t want to save man, but nature. Economics for them is irrelevant. For example the Stern review and its unreasonably low discount rate (that was what prompted Klaus to join the debate). The choice of discount rate is critical (cites Lawson). High discount rate=little meaning in any intervention.

We should use the market rate, as it is the “opportunity cost” of climate mitigation. Stern and others do not want to do that.

Klaus doesn’t deny increasing temps will see losers and winners. Even if overall is going to be detrimental, with proper discount rates the consequences are too small to worry about.

Why do many people think differently? Many have invested too much in GW alarmism. Fear of losing out on the political and professional side. Biz people hoped to make a fortune and are not ready to write it off. There is a coalition of powerful special interests endangering us. (hence the subtitle of his book.

We need to stand up against all attempts to undermine our democratic society.

We need to be prepared to all kinds of future climate changes but never accept to lose our freedom

ends at 19″43

room is packed. >100

there is a video being taken

Peter Glover: Arctic forum. No engagement at all on the two sides. The “other side” never seems to have thought things through logically.

Klaus: Many scientists are engaged Journalist in The Times keeps receiving articles and books about the dogma. The fact that the other side doesn’t listen is not new to people that lived under Communism.

Q: Roll back the ETS in Europe?

Klaus: Cap-and-trade is one of the policy measures in the hands of the environmentalists. It’s not just the USA staying away from it. But the EU is post-democratic (laughter)

Hartwell (metallurgic engineer): Presentation is political. Royal Society published paper on climate change. Many scientists there are seriously interested. We should manage the risk of future rises in temperatures

Klaus: Not impressed by science established by committee or vote. Remember nobody is an expert in GW. Another quote from Bob Carter: wide range of disciplines among “climate” scientists. Most alarm from scientists from meteor and computer modelling. Geologists see no cause for alarm.

(argument ad providentiam)

Klaus says he has used computer models too. Computer modellers are not climatologists.

Q: Ecological modernisation used by many groups to look for environmental problems to push for technology. Amount of money in the academic community is very strong. WG-III is real push for IPCC.

Klaus: can’t understand sustainable development. Environment should be differentiated from GW.

Physicist: Comment on RS. Previous head didn’t’ give space to “deniers”. current document requires further revision. Draft Copenhagen agreement deals with putting together a world government (57? 58?). Why didn’t you use that?

Klaus: Only retirees dare write against AGW. COP-15 was so confused there was no point to go there. Details impossible to follow and not relevant. Documents have no writers and no readers

Q: Bloggers have changed the nature of the debate

Lawson: Yes. Extremely-expensive decisions should not be taken without a proper debate and there hasn’t been one. The RS has been obliged to move a little bit, not much, but more than nothing. Even the BBC says dissenting voice ought to be heard.

My questions

What would convince Pres Klaus that there is something to worry about? What would he choose, climate disruption or liberty?

Klaus: Empirical evidence is what is needed. Starting point still remains. Quality of measurements for example is important. Models are not convincing, too many mistakes in the methodologies, statistics, I am not convinced

Philosopher: The psychological side. Green lobbyists want to have cars and dirty industries banned. They found the scientific reason in AGW. Political agenda feeds on fear.

Klaus: One reason for scaring us disproved, another one pops up. My interests at the beginning of the 1970a. Could get only economical reviews and scientific publications. Couldn’t understand Club of Rome and Limits to Growth. That’s total nonsense. Same computer modellers of LtG continued with AGW. Same people.

Q: AGWers are organised by somebody?
Piers Corbyn: Prepare for extreme events…ask the UN to do that?

Klaus: Anybody controlling? People that have outlived communism are oversensitive regarding the issue of getting controlled

Q: Oxford Union debate, victory. Other side went for ad-homs. Wind farms are completely useless and evidence is transparent. How do rational politicians live with that knowledge?

Klaus`; Times journo asked if other leading politicians are against AGW? Many have similar views but are afraid to say it openly. Anecdote. Some nonsense is very evident. Solar energy during the night. Wind farm generation by electrical motors.

Lawson concludes. Mentions Klaus’ bravery as he is still in office.

end at 20:29

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Is This The Face Of Evil At The BBC?

2010/10/11 1 comment

 

He Who Questions Science

He Who Questions Science

 

Mukul Devichand…try to remember this name (well, it helps if you’re Indian, Welsh, or both)…why? Because Mr Devichand’s “The Spirit Level: the theory of everything?” programme on Radio4 tonight has surely been the most shocking BBC documentary since Oct 18, 1922.

You see, Mukul “Scourge of Science” Devichand HAS QUESTIONED A COUPLE OF SCIENTISTS’ THEORY.

The shock! The horror!

Yes, you’ve read it correctly. Rather than recording the usual regurgitated press release in order to reaffirm how any scientist that happens to be near a microphone is always right and always will be, Mr Devichand has done his job, what should be the normal job for every self-respecting journalist at the BBC and elsewhere: he has put forward interesting, probing, challenging questions to the scientists at hand, making sure the listeners understood the limits of the proposed theory, and going as far as to suggest some of the criticisms could be warranted.

Have you ever heard of a more evil person? (yes, I have)

The programme had no qualms in discussing the policy implications of the proposed theory, and didn’t try to paint opponents as anti-Science people. Finally, there was an open admission that (esp. in matters of public policy) things will always be interpreted according to one’s “heart”.

Is this an example of things to come? I HEREBY EXPRESS MY SUPPORT FOR THE PROMOTION OF MR MUKUL DEVICHAND AS BBC CLIMATE NEWS SUPREMO.

If only.

Just think, how many Jos Abbesses are out there, lurking in wait of another chance to metaphorically beat a BBC employee to submission at the first sign of doubt

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